He/she is “definitely a division III athlete.” This is a phrase I have heard uttered by high school coaches, club coaches, parents, and even prospective student athletes. What makes a prospective student “a division III athlete”? Who is able to make that determination? What are the defining characteristics? Can a Division III athlete described in a few words, fit all situations?
As a longtime coach and administrator (and athlete!) at top NCAA Division III institutions, I submit that it is difficult to characterize an NCAA Division III athlete in any formulaic way. I make this assertion based on three reference points:
1) Some NCAA Division III programs support a highly competitive system with the majority of varsity team members having been top high school and/or club sport athletes who may have turned down athletic scholarship offers to compete in Division III.
2) Some NCAA Division III environments give opportunities for all who have an interest and are willing to make the commitment to play. They operate junior varsity programs that allow players to develop and improve over time, making the transition to the varsity level.
3) Some NCAA Division III programs do not fill all roster spots and/or have less recognized high school players as the majority of varsity team members.
Clearly, there are many different types of programs, even different within the same institution. At Moravian College, we have twenty NCAA Division III varsity sports and a number of junior varsity programs. Many of the varsity teams compete at the highest level of our conference and reach NCAA championship play. Some of those programs, while very competitive, offer opportunities for all student-athletes to be involved by playing junior varsity or as part of an expanded varsity roster.
The answer, in my view is the fit. It is clear that every interested prospective student-athlete could find a place where he or she would have an opportunity to compete. The difference is determined by level of competition and overall student interest in the program. Prospective student-athletes should look first for an institution that will allow them to accomplish their academic and personal goals. Some of the determining factors include: academic major, academic reputation, graduate or professional school preparation, institutional size, proximity to home, institutional location (urban, rural, small town, etc.), co-curricular opportunities, campus life, and residential opportunities. After narrowing the search, then the students should consider the programs athletic environment. Opportunity in intercollegiate athletics can be easier to attain than one thinks, if the student is honest in his or her assessment. A number of questions should be asked to help the student determine his or her opportunity:
How do I relate to the coaching staff?
How would I describe the coaching style?
How do I relate to the other student-athletes?
What is the class-year distribution of the team members?
What positions would I play on the team?
Describe the other players competing for the same position. What year are they?
What are the physical requirements?
What is the time commitment required?
What is the game plan, and how would I fit into this plan?
What percentages of players graduate in four years?
What is the typical practice session? How will I perform?
What is the academic support for athletes at the institution?
(Study hall requirements, tutor availability, staff, class load, faculty cooperation)
What is the typical day for a student-athlete? The typical semester?
Will I be required to live on campus throughout my athletics participation?
The ultimate question: If I am injured and can never compete again, will I accomplish the rest of my goals and be happy at this institution?
Who is a DIII athlete? Most often it is a student athlete who wants to play and makes the choice to attend an institution that best fits his or her needs and ability academically and athletically.