A recent trend in college athletics, which has been flying under the radar, is that a growing percentage of top high school athletes are deciding to play sports at Division III programs (where there aren’t any athletic scholarships) instead of Division I universities.  The reason is primarily three-fold:  1)  Besides the high-profile sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball, and in some cases women’s volleyball — the vast majority of college athletic scholarships are only “partials,” meaning they cover only a fraction of the tuition bill (in many cases, only one-third or one-fourth the cost of tuition); 2)  Division I programs, despite only offering partial scholarships, demand students to make a much larger commitment of time to practices, team meetings, etc. relative to their Division III counterparts (taking away from the overall college experience); and 3)  True student-athletes, whose focus is getting a quality education, are choosing the better schools that populate the Division III level — schools that also have less athletic pressure — even if it means paying more in tuition (although in some cases, student-athletes can receive substantial need-based aid or academic merit scholarships at Division III schools).

A by-product of this trend is that top Division-III teams have been regularly beating Division I teams — especially in men’s and women’s tennis, men’s swimming, women’s golf, and other lower profile sports.  Men’s lacrosse is a prime example.  Scott Craig, the boy’s lacrosse coach at West Islip High School in New York believes the playing field in his sport at the college level is nearly flat, saying, “Once you get past the top 15 or 20 D-I schools, the top D-III teams can totally compete.”

Craig says the allure of Division III colleges is “You can go to Division III and have a more academic setting.  You don’t have that kind of offseason commitment that you have in D-I.”  That is appealing to a large number of high school recruits that are now choosing the best schools they can get into academically.  A key point is that there is an abundance of need-based aid and academic-based merit scholarships available for economically-disadvantaged high school seniors looking to go to college and continue their athletic careers.

The League of Fans is pushing for a return to the original intent of college athletics:  real students interested in making sports part of their overall educational experience while on campus.

It looks like we are beginning to trend that way.

— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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