By Brian Burnsed
Friday’s Division III issues forum was highlighted by fervent roundtable discussions and impromptu straw polling regarding the nine concepts put forward last summer by the recruiting working group.
In 2012, the group was tasked with improving the recruiting process for everyone in Division III, with an emphasis on finding ways to address work-life imbalances among coaches. Three of the nine concepts – to permit on-campus evaluations, to allow for earlier off-campus contact with recruits and to create an official athletics commitment – were the primary focus of the roundtable discussions held by the more than 600 session participants.
The creation of a potential official athletics commitment sparked a slew of responses from the large crowd. Some were dismayed, feeling that a mechanism that mirrored the national letter of intent used in Divisions I and II – particularly if it was a binding document that imposed penalties should student-athletes change their minds after signing – would fly in the face of Division III’s philosophy.
But several members of the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee said they would have relished an opportunity to sign a commitment letter and have a “signing” ceremony like their counterparts in Divisions I and II. The working group hadn’t originally intended to poll members on the topic, but given the level of interest, questions were made up on the fly at the behest of several student-athletes and administrators. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents indicated that they would favor allowing a non-binding commitment letter and/or ceremony, while only 27 percent said they would be opposed.
“It’s a great idea as long as it’s voluntary and it doesn’t have a set of rules and regulations attached to it,” said Bob Antonucci, president of Fitchburg State and member of the Division III Presidents Council. “To allow a student to have his or her picture taken, sign a letter of intent with the other students in their high school, I think is terrific.”
While no poll was taken regarding permitting on-campus evaluations, prior survey data indicated a majority of respondents favored potential legislation. Roundtable discussions on Friday echoed that sentiment. Several coaches noted that on-campus evaluations, which are currently banned in Division III, would be useful for evaluating recruits and would help steady their work-life imbalances because it would allow potential student-athletes to come to them.
The room was split on allowing earlier contact with recruits: Forty-one percent indicated the working group should pursue legislation, 27 percent said they should take no action, and 30 percent said they need more information.
Some worried that allowing contact during freshman, sophomore or junior years would be intrusive and hinder student-athletes’ development. While others noted it would be a boon for enrollment management, particularly at smaller institutions that rely on athletics to meet enrollment goals.
“For smaller schools the challenge is for the potential student-athletes to know we’re there,” said Dave Holden, faculty athletics representative at Greenville College, which is home to 1,200 students. “The general college recruiting starts earlier now anyway. We need that time to talk about who we are and educate them on the differences between DIII and DI rather than being in a rush.”
The working group will take Friday’s feedback into consideration as it determines which concepts to push forward for legislation, which to scrap and which to further elucidate.
“We’ll look forward to reviewing the feedback,” said Barney Forsythe, recruiting working group member and Westminster president. “We are dealing with important and serious issues and challenges.”