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Division III Presidents review grad rates, discuss legislation

Council declines to support legislation to allow football conditioning in the offseason

At its last meeting before the NCAA Convention convenes in January, the Division III Presidents Council reviewed the division’s graduation rates, including the Academic Success Rate data, and discussed how members can use that information to continue to improve those figures.

Numbers released earlier this week show that the division’s national, four-year average Academic Success Rate is 87 percent.

That figure is based on data for the 2013-14 academic year submitted by 140 schools that took part in Division III’s voluntary reporting program, now in its fifth year. Since 2009, more than 200 Division III member schools have taken part in the program, and this year’s program attracted the highest number of participants to date.

“We were delighted to see the improvements,” said Sharon Herzberger, president of Whittier College and chair of the Presidents Council, which met last week at the NCAA national office in Indianapolis. “The fact that our students are doing so well in the Academic Success Rate is something we should be proud of as a division.”

The NCAA’s Academic Success Rate was created to to provide a more accurate picture of graduation by tracking student-athletes who transfer.  The federal graduation rate for Division III student-athletes in 2013-14 was 69 percent compared to 59 percent for the overall student body, but the federal rate does not include students who were in good academic standing but chose to transfer to other schools to finish their degrees.

The council also discussed methods for using the data to identify and improve weaknesses in academic success for student-athletes. Among the sports offered in Division III, the lowest Academic Success Rate reported was for football players, at 76 percent. Meanwhile, the federal graduation rate for Division III football players was 55 percent, also lowest in the division and 1 percentage point below the average for all male students.

Among other findings in the Academic Success Rate report, the council discussed how the size of an incoming class of football recruits can ultimately impact student-athlete success in the classroom. In Division III, for every 10 football players added to a football cohort, the data reveal, the Academic Success Rate could be expected to diminish by an average of 1 percent.

“We saw that the rate with football players is something to still work on,” Herzberger said, “and that’s a particular sport we know, as a division, we have to work on.”

In preparation for the NCAA Convention, which will take place Jan. 15-17 in the Washington, D.C. area, the council also discussed several pieces of legislation that will be considered by Division III membership:

  • The council voted to oppose a proposal that would ease practice restrictions on Division III football programs during the sport’s nontraditional segment. For Division III football, that period is five weeks in the spring currently used for skill instruction with no contact. Currently, only hand shields are allowed during these spring sessions, but a group of 22 Division III schools has proposed allowing as many as seven days of full-pad practice, with tackling allowed on three days, and two days for 11-on-11 scrimmages.

“We feel that our division stands for student-athletes being able to participate in all kinds of events and all kinds of activities on a college campus,” Herzberger said. “That would mean students should be able to study abroad. They should be able to participate as the lead in a play. They should be able sing in the choir, and they should be able to focus on their academics. And so we do not like the fact that this proposal seems to be even more increasing the time and the focus on athletics in the nontraditional season.”

One reason the schools put forth the proposal is because student-athletes participating in sports other than football are now able to have more complete practices during their sports’ nontraditional segments. However, council members said that a broader discussion with the membership at the 2015 Convention might indicate that the membership wants to reconsider what happens in other sports’ nontraditional segments.

“The council wants to have a more serious discussion about nontraditional seasons in general and whether the growth in the nontraditional season across sports is a healthy thing for our student-athletes, or whether we would take a step back from it,” Herzberger said.

  • The council directed staff to explore in depth potential Title IX concerns related to a proposal it is co-sponsoring to reduce by 10 percent the maximum number of contests allowed in all Division III sports except football and cross country. The Title IX concerns were raised by representatives of the women’s volleyball, soccer and softball coaches’ associations. The council agreed to consider the staff report and revisit its co-sponsorship of the legislation, initially proposed by three Division III conferences, no later than its pre-Convention meeting in January.
  • The membership will consider allowing Division III coaches to evaluate prospective student-athletes on campus under parameters recommended by the division’s recruiting working group. This proposal is a response to talks at last year’s NCAA Convention, where 84 percent of delegates participating in a discussion on the matter said they favored a proposal that would allow such evaluations.
  • The division will host a roundtable discussion at the NCAA Convention that will include consideration of its future budget. This spring, the division was facing a $2.1 million shortfall, a number influenced mostly by the ever-increasing travel costs of sponsoring national championships. Many cost reductions put in place this year by the division’s Championships Committee and Strategic Planning and Finance Committee helped reduce the championships shortfall to about $940,000, and the annual overall projected budget balance appears to be positive through 2018-19. However, the Council agreed that the membership would benefit from a comprehensive review and discussion of the division’s budget principles, policies, process, challenges and options.
  • Division III membership will also consider recognizing sand volleyball as a sport and allowing its schools to participate in a related National Collegiate Championship. Currently, only Divisions I and II have approved sand volleyball as an emerging sport, but now that it has met the minimum qualifications to establish a national championship – a decision that will require approval from all three divisions at the NCAA Convention – members may vote to allow Division III schools to participate in this women’s sport.
  • The Division III membership will consider allowing a waiver of the exploratory year for schools that want to join Division III and already meet many of the membership requirements for the division. Currently, schools applying for membership in the division must first spend one year in an exploratory phase. Membership will consider whether that year is unnecessary for schools that have already outlined an athletics strategic plan that is in line with the division’s philosophy, and fulfill related sports-sponsorship requirements and financial aid rules in place for Division III.