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The Division III Experience

From Sharon Herzberger, Chair of the Division III Presidents Council

Athletics competition at more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada is governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which maintains three divisions to offer “level playing fields” for the smallest liberal arts colleges and the most committed and funded major-university athletics programs.

The largest division in terms of number of schools and number of participants is Division III, comprising more than 180,000 student-athletes representing more than 445 colleges and universities.

Most people think of Division III as the colleges and universities that don’t give scholarships. More than 80 percent of Division III student-athletes receive financial aid or have earned a merit scholarship for academic talent and accomplishment.  But Division III student-athletes receive no such aid for playing their sport.

The students on the intercollegiate teams of Division III member schools come to college for an education and they play for the love of the game. Our student-athletes compete not because they expect a financial reward or even in the hopes of being featured in the media, but because they are driven to excel. Without million-dollar coaches and multi-million dollar revenues, the challenge and commitment to do their best is personal.

At the same time, student-athletes at Division III institutions share many characteristics with the much more visible scholarship athletes at Division I and II schools: they work just as hard in practice and compete just as intensely; they strive to win, and through competition, they learn lessons about discipline, leadership and teamwork. They are passionate about their sport.

Colleges and universities that subscribe to the Division III philosophy enable students to integrate – and balance – their athletics experience with academic interests and other co-curricular activities. It’s not unusual to find a star tennis player serving as a peer mentor and singing in the choir.  It is also not unusual to see athletes take time away from their sport to study abroad.  The same drive they show on the court or field makes them dedicated partners in student-faculty research.

Alumni who are now successful business leaders, lawyers, teachers, medical researchers, and theater directors look back on their participation in intercollegiate athletics as a critical part of their development. Their academic success was complemented by the challenges and skill sets provided through dedicated practice and competition. 

The late sportswriter and commentator Heywood Hale Broun is credited with saying that “sports do not build character – they reveal it.” The character of Division III student-athletes is revealed in their passion to learn, to excel and to compete. As chair of the Division III Presidents Council, I encourage everyone to watch Division III athletic contests, get to know our student-athletes, and experience this passion for themselves.