Striking the Balance: D-III (or D-IV?) Athletics

The presidents of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III colleges are now considering a proposal that would redefine the current division, of which Middlebury and its New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) institutions are members.  The rationale for this proposal is rooted in the belief that the recent growth in Division III, now with more than 420 member institutions, and continued growth anticipated, has altered, and will further alter, the character of D-III athletics.  NESCAC, arguably the most successful D-III conference in the division, is also the conference with the most stringent rules that govern varsity athletics, including the length of each season, the number of contests, student eligibility, practice schedules, recruiting policy, post-season play, and others.

Interest in this topic became national as a result of two books published in 2001 and 2003 (“The Game of Life” and “Reclaiming the Game”) that questioned the degree to which the balance between academics and athletics at selective colleges had been compromised by an overemphasis on the latter.

The current concern is that with schools coming into D-III that have more lenient rules than NESCAC governing their athletics programs, the annual votes on rules changes taken at the national convention will soon run counter to NESCAC’s philosophy.  The anticipated rules changes would give our competitors on-field advantages that are seen as unfair.  To counter this, a number of D-III member institutions are encouraging colleges that share our (and their) conference’s philosophy on the balance between academics and athletics to support the proposal for a “Division IV” or “Division IIIa” and “Division IIIb sub-divisions.  By establishing a new division or sub-division, schools would be grouped and compete with schools that share more similar philosophies on the role of athletics on their campuses.  It would also allow the new division to introduce new and perhaps even more stringent rules guiding athletics at their institutions.

My initial reaction to all of this was that it would be good for Middlebury to compete with schools and athletic conferences that set similar parameters around their athletics programs.  It didn’t seem right to me (or “fair”) that some of our varsity teams compete against programs with student bodies that are two, three, and even five times the size of Middlebury’s—programs that begin their seasons weeks ahead of our teams, with many more games/contests under their belts before post-season play, and with fewer other restrictions on their recruiting, admissions, and other relevant areas. 

However, because of a student lunch that my wife Jessica and I hosted for the varsity spring sport captains last April, my thinking has evolved.  Pete Mellen, last year’s captain of the men’s lacrosse team (and best face-off man in D-III), listened to my comments on this apparent uneven playing field, and responded, “But President Liebowitz, who really cares?  We beat them all anyway.”  His position was seconded and supported by all other captains at that lunch.

His comment reframed (for me) the question this way: so what if other D-III conferences had rules more lax than our own, and so what if, on those campuses, a greater number of classes would be missed by varsity athletes, or too much time was expected from athletes in terms of their commitment to one activity on campus, or if some athletes were red-shirted, or any of the other things that would be out of “sync” with NESCAC philosophy?  If our conference retained the proper rules and balance, and was still able to compete successfully, who cares what the other 400+ D-III schools did?  We could still set the example and the standard.

Well, at least two issues come to mind.  First, since NESCAC occupies a leadership position within D-III athletics, to reject a proposal by the more academically oriented institutions to form a division within the NCAA committed to ensuring the balance between the classroom and the playing field would put our conference in an awkward position.  Some believe it would cast our institutions as hypocrites by not leading by example and supporting a move that at least claims to “reclaim the game.”  And second, if colleges with philosophies that differ greatly from NESCAC began to dominate D-III rules debates and voting so there was a wider discrepancy in rules governing athletics between most D-III schools and NESCAC schools, what would happen if NESCAC teams began to get pummeled in first round NCAA tournaments as a result?

Right now, of course, that is not happening.  In fact, NESCAC is the most successful conference in terms of NCAA championship play, but how much pressure would presidents of NESCAC schools begin to feel from student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, alumni, and others if our current success gave way to early tournament departures?  How tempting would it be to compromise on the current balance we prize and celebrate to win more?

Several questions to consider:

  • If NESCAC retains its own high standards for how it runs its athletic programs, should we really care about a larger D-III?
  • Would moving to a D-IV or sub-divisions within D-III affect the recruitment of student-athletes at schools like Middlebury? Many coaches believe it would. Should that matter?
  • Since NESCAC teams often beat many D-III schools that are larger with more lenient policies guiding athletics, is this proposal, in reality, designed to make the would-be D-IV athletic conferences more competitive?
  • Would stricter guidelines on our athletics program, which might come with a new D-IV, be a good thing?

It seems to me that striving for the best of both worlds should guide our position on this issue: that is, providing the best competition for our student-athletes while, at the same time, applying the necessary policies to ensure a healthy balance between our academic and athletic programs.  That would mean choosing to remain in D-III while retaining the most stringent guidelines to ensure the kind of overall education we seek for our students.

I am interested to hear your views on this topic.  In the coming months, I plan to hold discussions with our coaches, varsity athletes, and our Athletic Policy Committee to gain multiple perspectives on this issue.  In the meantime, please send along your views.

And by the way, congratulations to our men’s soccer team—recent winners of the NCAA D-III national championship over a remarkable (and undefeated) Trinity University team.  Special congratulations to long-time Panther coach, Dave Saward, who, along with so many Middlebury coaches, represents the best of D-III athletics.

21 comments

Ron
I just read your blogs about D3 sports and about the proposed military recruiting ban. I was very impressed with both blogs.

First on the D3 vs D4 debate. I too (like the Midd coaches) think that a D4 would be considered like the “JV team” division if implemented. The theory is interesting – but I would think that Middlebury and NESCAC can make a strong impact by setting their own rules within the D3 structure. I have two kids that have gone through the recruiting process and can tell you that there is an allure of playing in the highest level division possible for both kids and parents – I would hate to see good solid athletes turning down Middlebury to play D3 elsewhere vs D4 at Middlebury…..I think that athletes would likely be disinclined to go D4 bc of a connotation or stigma that it meant a lower class of play. Ultimately this may get corrected – but it may not….too risky to try in my opinion. (PS – As I have written to you, the Midd coaches are 2nd to none…Quinn, Ritter, Foote, etc are honest, straight forward and classy….)

Regarding military recruiting – I find it so hypocritical that in the name of free speech Columbia invites the President of Iran but bans military recruiters….”thinking” flies out the window and “feeling” rules the day. The bias of the institution and the tenured faculty truly makes me crazy. So – I absolutely believe that to deny the opportunity of the military to recruit on campus is plain wrong. I too think that those that are qualified and desire to serve the military should be allowed without haveing to be decitful. Further – it should all be performance based – sexual orientation should not be a factor…but recognize that if it does become a factor in any way, then consequences should follow (whether Tailhook scandel (was that the name?) or otherwise.

Have a great holiday season.

Jim Ryan

It seems to me that the Ivy’s are faced with bigger challenges to compete in D-I. It would be good to know how they are coping with the situation. It is also pertinent because Middlebury competes with these schools for the best student athletes in the country. I think it would be demeaning to the participants to participate in a “sub-class” division (and that it would be). I think it would also be embarrassing to the college to try to fit into a new division that would better suit our needs. Being the big fish in an even smaller pond would simply draw more criticism from those on the outside.

If the coming solution to this big fish syndrome is further deemphasis of the school’s athletics, I would emphatically oppose it!!!! Even if there is a dichotomy of the “strictly academics students” and the “Student athletes”, it is truly the athletics that instill a great amount of notariety and pride in the school. This would be at the present student body level as well as at the alumni level!!!

As for the Ski Team. Anything but Division I participation would be an insult to the school, it’s athletes, and it’s alumni. Tradition is very delicate and Middlebury is steeped in tradition through it’s skiing.

It might be worthwhile to have a chat with David Wolk, the President of Castleton State College (and a Middlebury alumni). He is trying to to take his college to higher levels and his strategy is based on enhancing the athletics at the college.

If the concern is keeping up with other D-III colleges on a national level, don’t worry about it. Competing at the national level is merely icing on the cake and happens only after an outstanding season. The concern should be with the regular season schedule and that is against mostly NESCAC schools anyway. It wasn’t too long ago that the NESCAC prohibited NCAA tournaments. I would choose that option over dropping down another division. In fact, I would choose to drop out of the NCAA before dropping to a lower division.

There are many many tremendous student athletes that have come from Middlebury. I believe dropping to another division would kill any chance of attracting any sort of exceptional student athlete.

Middlebury is a small school and there is a lot of pride derived from being the “David” in a pool of “Goliaths”

Thank you for reading my thoughts,

Tom Calcagni ’82

Paul Scheufele 1980

Paul Scheufele 1980’s avatar

Dear Ron:

Thank you for giving alumni (class of 1980) and parents (class of 2011.5) the opportunity to weigh in on this important topic. I support the conclusion you reached in your D3 vs. D4 blog. Having played football and lacrosse in Middlebury (1977-1980), a big frustration then was that our teams could not advance to NCAA tournament play. In lacrosse we would have qualified in 3 of 4 years. We hailed Middlebury’s decision to play in NCAA tournaments in the 1990’s. It was a statement that our students can compete at the highest level in the classroom and on the field. Middlebury has gone on to prove that to be true.

Athletes want to compete at the highest level of their capabilities. If the NESCAC teams were getting trounced, then the decision to form a new division would be easier. But our teams are competing with high academic standards and stringent off-season restrictions and we are still winning on the field. I happen to think that the NESCAC philosophy is a reason our teams are so successful on the national scale. Sports are fun when they are not a job, and D1 and many D3 schools make sports a job. Middlebury athletes have the freedom to choose where and when they will work out, and how much time they want to dedicate to their primary sport in the off season. Heck, many Middlebury athletes still play two sports. That is a fantastic situation in 2007. They are having fun and that makes a difference!

Today, Middlebury attracts outstanding student who compete at high levels in many different disciplines. Middlebury and NESCAC can continue to have it both ways. By maintaining high standards and winning against schools with lower standards, Middlebury sets the perfect example.

In your words, “It seems to me that striving for the best of both worlds should guide our position on this issue: that is, providing the best competition for our student-athletes while, at the same time, applying the necessary policies to ensure a healthy balance between our academic and athletic programs. That would mean choosing to remain in D-III while retaining the most stringent guidelines to ensure the kind of overall education we seek for our students.”

Overall, the debate is worthwhile as it forces a college to “check its compass.” And the time may come when other D3 schools become “mini-D1″ programs and NESCAC and other like-minded schools just can’t compete. That may be the time to consider a move. As for now, Peter Mellen’s practical advice seems like the best I have heard. Keep striving for success with your common-sense approach to sports.

Best Regards,

Paul Scheufele (1980) p (2011.5)

Re.: Division III or IIIa or IV Athletics.

The comment to Pres. Liebowitz by Pete Mellen, that “We beat them all anyway,” seems to point to the appropriate conclusion.

The main sports that the more agressive Div. III schools will want to put their efforts into will very probably be the “money” sports anyway, ie football, basketball and, to a lesser extent, hockey.

In football, we already “insulate” ourselves by staying within the NESCAC, and this works out very well. In basketball, if other colleges ramp themselves up so that Midd is not competative, we don’t need to schedule them. (It is also relatively easy to recruit and spend in basketball to get into Division I if that is the aim of the smaller school.)

In hockey, RPI, Clarkson and St Lawrence have decided to go the Division I route with the rest of their teams in Div. III. Smaller colleges Quinniapac and Mercyhurst have recently started Div I hockey programs.(Middlebury toyed with going that route in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with significant success against the above teams and the Ivies, but wisely pulled back.)

Having skiing as Middlebury’s Div I sport is good for the college. As another example of a highly selective small school, Johns Hopkins does well in Div I Lacrosse.

My bottom line–let other Division III schools ease restrictions, Middlebury will continue to do well. The schools who really want to play in Division I will gravitate there anyway.

Re.: Division III or IIIa or IV Athletics.

The comment to Pres. Liebowitz by Pete Mellen, that “We beat them all anyway,” seems to point to the appropriate conclusion.

The main sports that the more agressive Div. III schools will want to put their efforts into will very probably be the “money” sports anyway, ie football, basketball and, to a lesser extent, hockey.

In football, we already “insulate” ourselves by staying within the NESCAC, and this works out very well. In basketball, if other colleges ramp themselves up so that Midd is not competative, we don’t need to schedule them. (It is also relatively easy to recruit and spend in basketball to get into Division I if that is the aim of the smaller school.)

In hockey, RPI, Clarkson and St Lawrence have decided to go the Division I route with the rest of their teams in Div. III. Smaller colleges Quinniapac and Mercyhurst have recently started Div I hockey programs.(Middlebury toyed with going that route in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s with significant success against the above teams and the Ivies, but wisely pulled back.)

Having skiing as Middlebury’s Div I sport is good for the college. As another example of a highly selective small school, Johns Hopkins does well in Div I Lacrosse.

My bottom line–let other Division III schools ease restrictions, Middlebury will continue to do well. The schools who really want to play in Division I will gravitate there anyway.

Frank Punderson "55

Frank Punderson

A school is great only because it can attact quality students.Why would a young applicant of high intelligence/ability and motivation come to a school that didn’t offer excellence and balance in all its programs? Middleburys’ exemplary programs – across the board – require committment and discipline providing the opportunity for an individual to grow – academically and/or athletically. Winning a NCAA title is not the defining value of the athletic program – its the process that may or may not lead them there. It is the work/discipline, the understanding that as an individual – through teamwork can achieve levels of performance/fullfillment beyond his/hers dreams.Not only are our AD and our coaches world class, they are outstanding human beings, the embodiment of excellence and through their programs attract the very best. Diminishing the competetive level and scale of the program diminishes the luster and eventually would be followed by a lower quality of coaching and students and yes, that matters. Last September did Coach Saward have any notion his team would end up defeating schools with huge student populations, players of which were recruited first as soccer players who may or may not have been students? Was anyone worrried about getting pummeled – and speaking of fairness, what was Trinity of Texas – the undefeated national soccer power thinking when a little New England College referred to by the annnouncer as being from Connecticut defeated them? To emphasize my point as to an individuals’ opportunity to grow in a dynamic athletic program – could Brian Bush the walk-on goalie have believed he would be the MVP in the national championship? Student athletes don’t come to Middlebury to win a championship, they apply knowing only that they have talent/ability and that they will have the OPPORTUNITY to play with the best.Bob Gleason tells me he never noted degradation of student classroom performance because of conflict with demands of athletics. As in life, when you need to get a job done, go find the busiest person.I don’t understand what needs to be fixed. If NESCAC grows and schools that don’t share Middleburys’ values ultimately prevail – deal with it when the time comes. The issues the NESCAC Prexies mention may have merit but as the old saying goes, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water”. Right now, Middlebury has it about right. At the end of the day, it is about quality.

As a parent of one of the members of the 2007 men’s soccer team, which won the NCAA div. 3 soccer title in Nov., I will argue that dropping out of national division three competition is a truly terrible idea. There are few accomplishments for a student athlete that will ever rank as highly as winning a meaningful national title. It is a rare honor and privilege, and serves as a special reward for team and personal dedication. Not offering this opportunity to Middlebury student athletes limits their potential to excel.

It shouldn’t matter what other schools do and do not do to recruit players relative to Middlebury. Because of its other qualities, Middlebury will always be able to attract its share of top student athletes. And every few years, as happened this year with the men’s soccer team, all the pieces will come together. Other schools with different academic standards may expect to win. But when a school like Middlebury upsets them, it is even sweeter.

This championship season will probably be one of my son’s greatest memories as he grows older. I can’t see how it benefits anyone to close out the possibility that future Middlebury student athletes may aspire to, and occasionally experience, this same sense of joy and accomplishment.

David Moffat

Chuck Gately, 62

Chuck Gately, 62’s avatar

Ron,

I found your blog very thoughtful and want to pass on my thoughts. I take great pride and pleasure in NESCAC teams, especially Middlebury, winning D-III championships.

The dilemma that colleges and universities face today is how to conduct intercollegiate athletic programs on a sound educational basis that enhances not detracts from the educational experience of the student/athlete and the college community.
Clearly,NESCAC does it right!

I am amazed how are hockey teams start competition two weeks later than most D-III teams, take a month break for exams and holidays, and compete every year for national championships. Hats off to our student/athletes and coaches!

I believe that NESCAC does it right by creating an environment where the game or practice does not take precedence over classes, laboratories or papers and by providing a level of competition that effectively accommodates the interest and ability of the student/athlete.

Your blog references two books that question the balance between athletics and academics at selective colleges. I like to reference James J. Duderstadt, the former president of the University of Michigan, book “Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University – A University President’s Prospective”. Jim states that when a student/athlete creates the proper balance between academics and intercollegiate athletics he (or she) receives the finest possible education. For in addition to the lessons of the classroom and laboratory, the student learns from athletic competition the lessons of life such as commitment, disciple, leadership and teamwork. Ron, I believe that you and I learned valuable lessons for life by competing at a high level at the pool and the rink.

In summary, NESCAC schools have to be diligent in maintaining balance between academics and athletics, but let our students continue to compete and dominate D-III intercollegiate athletics.

Chuck Gately

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the debate relative to a DIV or a DIII3a and Middlebury’s position in the matter.

I feel that removing our programs from DIII would be a serious mistake. The success Midd and the rest of NESCAC has enjoyed over many years suggests to me that not only can we compete, but we can compete successfully while honoring the academic and social objectives of the college.

The challenge that broader inclusion provides is not only good from a competive standpoint but also from a social standpoint. Midd graduates will not spend the rest of their lives interacting with people from Amsherst, Williams et al. They will join a world that has a broad and diverse range of poeple from different economic, social and academic norms. The opprotunity to interact with athletes from other segments of society can be both educational and fulfilling. In the undergrad years at Midd there are not so many of these opportunities and athletes get this chance.

Further, there are advantages that Midd and other NESCAC and NESCAC like schools enjoy that other programs may not. Endowments and marvelous facilities, terrific coaches, great seconday school training must, at least in part, explain why NESCAC is a premminent DIII participant.

I have had the good fortune of knowing and interacting with many DIII school grads over the 34 years since I left Midd. I routinely find balanced, thoughtful and caring people. Some are from NESCAC schools such as Bates and Williams. Some are from the DePauws, the Trinitys, the Oberlins and the Denisons of the world. Many, not all, were invovled in intercollegiate athletics and recall the DIII participation fondly and recall great learning and growth opportunities in their endeavors. If one believes, as I do, that moving to a DIV or DIIIa would dilute these experiences and creste a “JV mentality” the loss overshadows whatever theoretical gain there might be.

Jim Kelly, 1974
Captain, Football 1973

Thanks, Jim, for your post. I agree that the “social” dimension of our athletes competing with students from a wide(r) range of institutions has not entered too much in the discussion of the pros and cons of any kind of change in divisional affiliation. Athletic Directors in NESCAC have raised it, but I agree it should be visible in our discussions and does represent an important component of our students’ education.

Thank you.
Ron

Dear President Liebowitz,

I read with interest your article in the Middlebury magazine about the Div III expansion issues. I endorse your position of remaining in Div III and retaining the most stringent guidelines. It is all about leadership by example.

I played lacrosse and was co-captain my senior year, 1962. This was before Divisions. We played anyone we could schedule, Dartmouth, Harvard, Hofstra, West Point, RPI, as well as the Williams, Weslyan etc. Even though we were outgunned many a time it was a good lesson and challenge. Much of life is uneven and imbalanced, and we learned to make the best of it. I made Honorable Mention All American in 1961 and 1962, which included guys from the big schools as well. The experience meant a great deal to me, and gave me some confidence in general, which led to leadership positions in the fraternity and on campus, and subsequently in the Navy and business.

Even though it irritates me that Salisbury State wins the national championship over Midd with a student body three of four times Midd’s, I take great pride that we did so well.

Sincerely,

Erik Green, 1962

Dr. Liebowitz,

I enjoyed reading your article in this month’s Middlebury magazine. My daughter, Alexi, is a first year and also plays for Bill Mandigo’s hockey team. I would like to share our family’s perspective on this issue.

First, I understand that hockey is one of the sports that Middlebury and NESCAC have been able to excel in, and this may not be true in other sports. However, my gut tells me that the sports in which NESCAC schools are least competitive with other D-III schools would be the so-called money sports of football and basketball. Even if D-III as a whole relaxes restrictions, the resulting competitive imbalance will likely continue to only affect these sports. I believe this has been proven at Division I already.

I can tell you from our daughter’s perspective that Middlebury gave her an opportunity to play hockey at the highest level without compromising her education. She could have played hockey at the Division I level, however the schools that had openings at her position simply could not offer her the academic opportunities that she had worked so hard to make available.

Under current Division III rules, the best and the brightest still choose NESCAC schools because they can take advantage of the educational opportunities while competing at the highest level. No matter what the other D-III institutions do, they cannot change the fact that there are smart kids who can not only run, throw, and skate; they can do these things while computing the area of a circle. No matter how many Athlete-Students take advantage of relaxed D-III standards, Student-Athletes will continue to choose NESCAC. As long as they do, giving them the opportunity to compete at the highest level is one way the NESCAC schools can fulfill their cherished mantra of diversity, no less important than giving a student from Ghana an opportunity to excel in Biology.

I say let the other D-III institutions relax whatever standards they choose. The smart kids will still make the smart choice. Don’t punish them for being bright.

Dear President Liebowitz,

This e-mail is in response to your article in the Winter Middlebury Magazine regarding varsity athletics. I found the issues you raised about “Striking a Balance” to be both thought provoking and important.

Perhaps it would be useful to provide a bit of personal information so that you will have some context to evaluate my comments. First, while at Midd I played, but not very well, football and lacrosse, the former without facemasks and the latter with wooden sticks. Second, for a number of years I was a small college faculty representative to the NCAA. In short, I have some interest in and knowledge about the questions you posed.

In the interest of brevity, let me try to list some opinions about the central questions noted in your article.

1- Is preferential treatment regarding admission of athletes fair? While I would wish that athletic teams were made up of those students who happened to enroll, I know this is not realistic. The answer than is yes it is fair as long as those athletes are clearly qualified to meet the academic demands of the college and that we make similar efforts to enroll students with exceptional non-athletic talents.

2- Do recruited athletes create an unhealthy subculture? Are such students likely to develop friendships with other athletes? Of course, but I doubt that their friendships will be exclusively among other athletes. Musicians are likely to share interests and friendship based on their abilities, but again not is an exclusive way. Finally, these kinds of mutual interest friendships are based on performance and not any ascribed characteristics such as may have been the case with fraternities. (Yes, I was a member of DU). On balance then, I think the answer is no.

3- Should we join an athletic division that stresses a limited role for athletics? Yes. Let me try to explain why. You noted that the captains of some of our teams argued that we beat teams with lesser standards any way, so why worry? What is wrong with that answer is that it makes winning the criterion of choice. I am all for fair competition and I believe that if you don’t want to win you shouldn’t play, but that said, it is not the purpose of an academic institution to produce “winning teams.”

I believe that Middlebury and NESCAC ought to be leaders in promoting balance and integrity in college sports. In some cases that is not how they are perceived. Academic friends of mine ask how it is possible for Midd to win so many games and particularly so many national championships if the college is really living up to the supposed standards of NESCAC? This suspicion of “cutting corners” extends to NESCAC itself as its members win an extraordinary number of national championships. The recent article in Sports Illustrated about the Trinity College squash team has seemed to confirm the notion that NESCAC schools will pay any price to win. I understand that squash is not a NESCAC sport, but the article does the conference no favors.

In sum, I hope Middlebury and NESCAC will support the development of a new Division IV with rules that promote increased emphasis on shared high academic values and a shared athletic philosophy. That philosophy ought stress fair competition and discourage programs like Mt. Union’s in football, Kenyon’s in swimming and Salisbury State’s in lacrosse. Middlebury will still win championships, but more importantly, it will have done the right thing.

Thank you for your patience in reading this long message.

Wayne G. Reilly ‘57

Ron:
You asked for feedback about “Striking the Balance” in Athletics at Middlebury, and I completely agree with your position.

I have read “The Game of Life” and “Reclaiming the Game”, and I think Middlebury has found the appropriate balance.
I think there should only be one D3 division, and Middlebury should take a leadership role in articulating why our restrictions as to length of season, missing classes, practices outside of season, red shirting, or whatever, is the standard that all D3 institutions should embrace.

I think it important that all student athletes have the opportunity to be exposed to other aspects of their schools such as lectures, concerts, and meeting new and different people.

For those who choose to compete at the D1 level, I often hear stories of disillusionment centered on the time commitment. The story revolves around the comment that “the coach feels that they just own me”.

It may be that Middlebury becomes less competitive in a larger D3 universe than they are now, but that may not happen, and it really does not bother me.

NESCAC is not competitive nationally in Football, and most are willing to live with that reality.

Middlebury is not and will not be competitive in men’s golf nationally, as the majority of the better players will choose a warmer climate.

That does not mean that the athletes on these two teams do not compete as hard as they can, and have a wonderful experience doing so!

George Cady ’72

Caroline McBride '75 P'04 '09

Caroline McBride '75 P'04 '09’s avatar

Dear Ron,

I would echo many of the commments made above and would agree, as would my daughter, that Middlebury (and NESCAC) ought to stay in Division III.

The continual ability of Middlebury (and other NESCAC schools) to attract the best and the brightest and have its’ team compete and be successful at the highest levels of Division III should be a source of enormous pride. As a parent of a current two-sport athlete, I can tell you that these teams relish the chance to play (and beat) teams that may appear, at least on paper, to have significant advantages–longer pre-season, lesser academic standards,etc.

The triumph of Middlebury men’s soccer has been well-documented and rightly so. As well, last fall, the field hockey team, as underdog, picked off Messiah, The College of New Jersey and Salisbury State (seeded # 7,4 and 2 respectively) before losing to Bowdoin ( the #1 seed). At least today, I fail to see that we are being disadvantaged.

Perhaps things will change dramatically in the future but for now, the ability of our sports teams to be competitive while maintaining the highest standards should be the envy of every Division III school!

I think the comment in the January issue of US Lacrosse magazine regarding picking Missy Foote as one of the top ten lacrosse coaches of the last 10 years (from a universe of men’s and women’s, DI,II and III, and professional) says it all.

“Like Pluger (from the College of New Jersey), Foote has four Division III women’s titles to her credit in the USL era (1999,2001,2002,2004). To do so under the academic and institutional rigors of the NESCAC is laudable.”

Caroline McBride ’75 P’04 ’09

Michael Thomson P'10

Michael Thomson P'10’s avatar

Dear President Liebowitz,
Enjoyed reading about the issues you raised regarding Middlebury’s role in D-III Athletics.
Middlebury should be leading the way to maintain D-III, without any split into smaller divisions. If D-III continues to grow, Middlebury and other NESCAC schools will have the opportunity to influence the policies for a broader collection of colleges and universities.
Middlebury is currently enjoying a great deal of success – not only in terms of the results of its athletic teams, but also in terms of its academic reputation and standing. Although there are times of conflict when balancing the interests of athletics and academics, Middlebury must be doing it right. Success comes not from choosing one over the other, but from working effectively towards excellence in both. D-III has it all! Let’s work to keep it, and expand it.
Having the opportunity to excel in both sports and academics provides motivation and inspiration to many young people in our society. The college should promote this along with every other program that Middlebury has to offer to current and prospective students. Splitting D-III (or eliminating the opportunity for some national competitions) would be a disaster. It would eliminate the options for true “student-athletes,” because there is simply no alternative to a D-III school with great academics.
Division III is prospering, even with some diversity in the athletic rules and regulations between member institutions. Let’s work to encourage a healthy balance for athletics within D-III. The balance does not have to be identical for each institution. Is it fair that some D-III schools emphasize their sports programs to attract talented athletes? Is it fair that Middlebury can emphasize its first rate academic programs to attract talented athletes? The diversity within D-III means that there will not be a level playing field in every respect, and it really isn’t necessary. There is enough common ground, and a large enough collection of schools, to have truly exciting national competitions.
I would like to close with a comment regarding pressure for winning. This may come frequently, and from a variety of sources. But it must be dealt with, because it is a misguided interest. The greater value, the one which really motivates an athlete is competition, tough and challenging competition. The kind in which the outcome is very much in doubt – and winning is unlikely. Competing against many schools, and larger schools, and those with more liberal standards, is all part of the equation. Having the opportunity to compete on a national level is invaluable to Middlebury student-athletes. It’s worth fighting for!

Dear Ron,

I appreciate that you wrote the article in the winter edition of the Middlebury Magazine. The role of athletics in the NESCAC is clearly a touchy situation and I am glad to see that you are taking comments to understand how the Middlebury community feels.

I have played for Middlebury College on the tennis team the last four years and have never missed anything as much as competing in the NESCAC and Division III.

I’d like to first respond to the question, “Should we really care about a larger DIII?” I think the clear answer is yes. The Division is growing and growing and at some point down the road there will be some kind of change. My question is why it is necessary for the NESCAC to move out of the division when the conference meets higher standards. It seems to me that the conference with the lowest standards should have to be the first to move to a DIV. Instead of starting the movement from DIII to DIV at the top, why not put pressure on the bottom. Selling the NCAA on raising the bar I am sure would be no easy task. For me, It just doesn’t seem right for the leading conference to feel the need to leave the division because two many teams with lower goals are joining.

What may have become clear is that I feel like the NESCAC moving to a DIV would have a very negative impact on the quality of competition. This can be seen in NESCAC football. Due to the fact that there is no national bid for football in the NESCAC there is little attention paid to the conference for this particular sport aside from the publicity Williams and Amherst got for being the oldest running rivalry. Last fall one of the greatest Middlebury football teams ever was not even mentioned while ESPN ran game day over at Williams. Why? With no chance for Tufts or Middlebury to move on to a national championship, tradition over at Williams was more important.

This brings me to the question of whether winning and competition really is important. I think it absolutely is. Learning and growing as a person is all about setting goals for yourself and working to achieve those goals in the pursuit of success. Whether a person is becoming a corporate executive or trying to become more voluntarily active in their community I think this holds true. As a tennis player at Middlebury, I learned many things about life that I probably would have not learned without it. The single most important thing I learned from the pressure of winning is that having regretted that you didn’t work hard enough is the most painful aspect of a loss. We had a high degree of success my freshmen year at Middlebury and proceeded to loose heartbreaker after heartbreaker at the end of the next three seasons. While it was hard to swallow I learned some valuable lessons. After two seasons of missing the goal and not being in the best shape possible, I realized that this pain of knowing I could have done more was what really hurt the most. I took what I learned and realized that this not only applied to my physical fitness and tennis but all aspects of my life including the time and effort I was putting into academics. Learning from the experience, the following year I gave both my academic and physical fitness the attention they needed.

The competitive mentality athletes bring to Middlebury is one of the things the working world loves about the school. That mentality can be formed in both the classroom and on the court or field.

Whatever happens as this process takes its course remember that athletics bring a significant value to Middlebury. History shows sports have brought people of the world together in spectacular ways.

Paul Scheufele 1980

Paul Scheufele 1980’s avatar

December 23, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Dear Ron:

Thank you for giving alumni (class of 1980) and parents (class of 2011.5) the opportunity to weigh in on this important topic. I support the conclusion you reached in your D3 vs. D4 blog. Having played football and lacrosse in Middlebury (1977-1980), a big frustration then was that our teams could not advance to NCAA tournament play. In lacrosse we would have qualified in 3 of 4 years. We hailed Middlebury’s decision to play in NCAA tournaments in the 1990’s. It was a statement that our students can compete at the highest level in the classroom and on the field. Middlebury has gone on to prove that to be true.

Athletes want to compete at the highest level of their capabilities. If the NESCAC teams were getting trounced, then the decision to form a new division would be easier. But our teams are competing with high academic standards and stringent off-season restrictions and we are still winning on the field. I happen to think that the NESCAC philosophy is a reason our teams are so successful on the national scale. Sports are fun when they are not a job, and D1 and many D3 schools make sports a job. Middlebury athletes have the freedom to choose where and when they will work out, and how much time they want to dedicate to their primary sport in the off season. Heck, many Middlebury athletes still play two sports. That is a fantastic situation in 2007. They are having fun and that makes a difference!

Today, Middlebury attracts outstanding student who compete at high levels in many different disciplines. Middlebury and NESCAC can continue to have it both ways. By maintaining high standards and winning against schools with lower standards, Middlebury sets the perfect example.

In your words, “It seems to me that striving for the best of both worlds should guide our position on this issue: that is, providing the best competition for our student-athletes while, at the same time, applying the necessary policies to ensure a healthy balance between our academic and athletic programs. That would mean choosing to remain in D-III while retaining the most stringent guidelines to ensure the kind of overall education we seek for our students.”

Overall, the debate is worthwhile as it forces a college to “check its compass.” And the time may come when other D3 schools become “mini-D1″ programs and NESCAC and other like-minded schools just can’t compete. That may be the time to consider a move. As for now, Peter Mellen’s practical advice seems like the best I have heard. Keep striving for success with your common-sense approach to sports.

Best Regards,

Paul Scheufele (1980) p (2011.5)

Dear President Liebowitz,

I enjoyed reading “Striking The Balance” in last winter’s Middlebury Magazine. Recently, I read “The Game Of Life” and “Reclaiming The Game” and agree with the author’s analysis concerning the academic-athletic divide.
My experience as an athlete at Middlebury highlights the conflict between athletics and academics. I was one of those parias, “the recruited athlete”, although my acedemic credentials would have earned me admission to the college independently.
I was a pre-med student and a mathematics major(there was no clustering in this department). My typical day consisted of morning classes, afternoon science labs, rushing to basketball practice, and evening studying. When I participated in daily practice I worked hard, but that was not enough. To be successful in high profile sports, one needs to devout twice the time and effort to training in addition to routine practice. I knew this, but my main objectives at Middlebury were to develope an intellectual foundation and to get accepted to medical school. I loved playing basketball, but I had to set limits. As a result, I did not develope my full athletic potential, to the detriment of the team. To this day I feel guilty about letting down my team and coach. This frustrated Coach Alaimo very much, but I hold him in very high regard for never forcing me to compromise my studies.
Fortunately, I did go to medical school and have had a rewarding career in medicine( I became a cardiac surgeon).
Middlebury has had a profound influence on my life, for which I am very gratfull.
The role of athletics in universities is irrational.I am a strong supporter of college athletics, but their purpose should be to develope character and promote health. I do not have any great incite to solve the academic-athletic divide, but I support the NESCAC’s effort to address the issue. The situation for Division I is hopeless. Division III strikes a better balance. No student should be admitted if they truly are not qualified academically(the opportunity costs are to high). Athletic ability should have equal weight with other extracurricular endeavors. Various athletic activities should be promoted for all students to encourage good health, not solely emphasizing varsity level sports. I guess I am too naive.
I appreciate your good work for the college.

Sincerely,

Kevin F. Ducey

I can see that there is a role for good leaders to guide student athletes. I did not play at that level but had family members that did. Div I is the best as far as the athletes. Some Div II seem like they don’t care as much. But I enjoy the Div III the best because it is more like highschool they are there for the love of the game.

Thanks for the post. I agree that the “social” dimension of our athletes competing with students from a wide(r) range of institutions has not entered too much in the discussion of the pros and cons of any kind of change in divisional affiliation, but I agree it should be visible in our discussions and does represent an important component of our students’ education.

Thank you.

Sites DOT Middlebury: the Middlebury site network.