Steps to Defeat D-III Reform
coaches nationwide are in the midst of preparing their game plans
for the season – toying with line combinations, power plays,
forechecks and the like in anticipation of the start of practice
question is one element of a broad reform package proposed
for Division III: a provision that would prevent any Division
III schools from awarding athletic scholarships, even in
sports in which they participate at the Division I level.
There are eight schools (12 teams) that would be affected
by that proposal.
(men’s and women’s hockey)
Colorado College (men’s hockey and women’s soccer)
Hartwick (women’s water polo)
Johns Hopkins (men’s and women’s lacrosse)
Oneonta State (men’s soccer)
Rensselaer (men’s hockey)
Rutgers-Newark (men’s volleyball)
St. Lawrence (men’s and women’s hockey)
The 15-member Division III President’s Council
endorsed the reform package
Division III President’s Council will meet
in Indianapolis; if the reform package is not amended at
this time it will be presented to the entire Division III
membership for vote at the annual convention
NCAA Convention, Nashville, Tenn.
Reform package, if passed, would take effect
You Can Do
But four coaches
– Clarkson’s George Roll, Colorado College’s
Scott Owens, Rensselaer’s Dan Fridgen and St. Lawrence’s
Joe Marsh – find their schools facing a much bigger challenge
than beating the opponent’s trap. Under proposed reforms
put forth by the Division III President’s Council, these
four programs, and four other schools nationwide, could lose their
ability to award athletic scholarships in Division I (see box
at right). They have until January, at the latest, to defeat or
amend the proposal.
no blueprint for success in this fight; no game tape to review
to find out how someone else succeeded before. With that in mind,
Inside College Hockey spoke to several people familiar with the
proposed reforms, and identified five steps the schools will have
to follow – to protect the four college hockey programs
that would be affected, and, by extension, to protect college
hockey as we know it.
Have a Unified Voice
bad enough that the eight schools that could be affected by this
rule represent less than 2 percent of the 424 Division III schools
nationwide. It gets even worse if those eight schools aren’t
speaking with a coherent voice, preaching the same message, and
aiming for the same, well-defined goals.
have sent some emails around, but we haven’t yet had a coordinated
effort,” Rensselaer Athletic Director Ken Ralph said this
week. “Whether that will be on a conference call or in person,
we will see.”
With a unified
voice, the schools should find an audience that's at least willing
to listen. The President’s Council, in its press release
announcing the proposal, noted “that it would be communicating
with the eight affected Division III institutions that give scholarship
aid in their Division I programs and receiving their feedback
prior to its October meeting.”
NCAA President Myles Brand (a 1964 Rensselear graduate, by the
way) was sure to note in his statement that the scholarship proposal
– foremost among the proposed reforms – was open to
“Some of the initiatives recommended by
the Council are controversial, most especially the one that phases
out the exception to the Division III prohibition on athletics
scholarships,” Brand said. “The institutions affected
by these proposed changes will have an opportunity to respond
and offer alternatives prior to and during the Convention. Their
comments will be important to the discussion.”
The eight schools can make their strongest contribution
to that discussion if they speak as one.
Fight This Battle First
easy to play “what if” and make plans in case the
legislation passes. But if the Division III membership gets the
sense that these eight schools will be content to move forward
as members of D-I or D-II, they could be more likely to let them
This is tricky for the schools involved, because
it’s tempting to appease potential recruits and alumni by
voicing emphatically that the D-I sports will not drop down to
D-III. That’s what Johns Hopkins’ president did when
discussing his team’s lacrosse program, and Rensselaer President
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson followed suit.
But could there be a danger that the other 416
Division III schools hear that and say, “Fine, go ahead”?
“Of course (there’s a danger in that),”
Ralph said. “But you know what? Rensselaer provides a lot
of value for Division III as a whole. Johns Hopkins does as well.
We are following the Division III philosophy, and we support the
rest of the reforms package.”
That’s the key: stressing a commitment to
Division III while voicing opposition to this element of the reform
package. That’s exactly what Colorado College athletic director
Joel Nielsen has said.
“The college supports the Division III philosophy
of educating and graduating student-athletes, and this philosophy
is consistent within our DI sports,” Nielsen said. “We
are committed to our multi-division status and it is our intention
to work within the NCAA parameters to defeat or amend the proposal
Ask Your Supporters to be Vocal
alumni, fans, and the college hockey community since this reform
package was proposed has been impressive to say the least. An
petition has gathered thousands of signatures in just days.
Ralph, the Rensselaer A.D., may have seen the
best of it. He answered his phone this week and spoke with a season
ticket holder from Northern Michigan – a school Rensselaer
has never played – asking what they could do to help.
At least as important – and if it comes
to a division-wide vote, much more important – is the support
of fellow Division III institutions. Johns Hopkins got a great
start in this regard thanks to the public support of the 11-member
Centennial Conference, of which Hopkins is a member.
"We value the relationship we have with Johns
Hopkins University and look forward to a continued association,"
Centennial Conference Executive Secretary Steve Ulrich said. "The
Centennial Conference and its member institutions are in full
support of Johns Hopkins maintaining its current status."
Franklin & Marshall is one of the members
of the Centennial Conference, and its president – John Fry
– is on the NCAA Division III President’s Council.
Public support from institutions like Fry’s will put pressure
on the rest of the President’s Council to amend the reforms
before they are put to a vote at the convention.
Appeal to Tradition
One of the
things people love about college hockey is the ability for the
little guy to compete against the best. Ferris State can win the
CCHA title over the likes of Michigan and Michigan State; a player
from Colorado College can win the Hobey Baker Award.
to this as a unique aspect of college hockey, and as the years
go by that may be more and more true. But it’s a feature
that has always existed and been celebrated in college sports.
Where else, beyond the playing field, can a relatively small Catholic
school in a remote Indiana town compete with huge state universities?
“We’ve got to appeal to athletic administrators
as fans of college sports,” Ralph said. “Tradition
is as much a part of college athletics as anything else. Even
people who were never involved in athletics at Rensselaer, not
even intramurals, have an incredible attachment to our hockey
program. It’s more than the school – the community
really establishes an identity with the team. We’re talking
in essence about a way of life in the winter. This would be like
taking the Red Sox out of Boston. For the city of Troy, Rensselaer
hockey is our franchise.”
Replace hockey and Rensselaer with lacrosse and
Johns Hopkins, and you can make a similar argument. Oneonta, N.Y.,
is home of both Oneonta State’s men’s soccer program
and the National Soccer Hall of Fame. “Hockey Line”
officially starts the season in Troy; at Homewood Field in Baltimore,
it’s when they hang memorial flags on the back of each lacrosse
The schools need to impart that sense of history
to the farthest reaches of Division III membership – from
Lewis and Clark College to New Jersey City University, and everywhere
The ECAC, which includes 186 Division III schools
(counting Clarkson, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence), has pledged
to work to educate its Division III members. In all, seven of
the eight schools affected by the proposed reforms are members
of the ECAC.
Colorado College has as strong ties to Division
I hockey history as any school in the nation, since the first
10 Frozen Fours were held in Colorado Springs – before it
was known as the Frozen Four, or division distinctions even existed.
That, and the similarly strong traditions at Clarkson, Rensselaer
and St. Lawrence, will have to be imparted on the rest of Division
Find a Powerful Spokesperson
If the President’s
Council doesn’t amend the reforms at its meeting in October,
they will be put to a division-wide vote at the convention January
in Nashville, where the eight schools will have one last chance
to state their case.
Everyone involved notes that while the President’s
Council wouldn’t propose a measure it thought would fail,
the result would be far from a fait accompli at that point. A
convincing spokesperson against the measure could tip the scales.
One observer recalled an impassioned plea by Peter Vidmar, a former
UCLA and Olympic gymnast, that convinced the membership to vote
against eliminating the men’s gymnastics championship.
a number of candidates with ties to these eight schools whose
voices would carry a lot of weight, including:
• A former player like Tom Preissing, who was an Academic
All-American and an All-American player for Colorado College
• A coach like Joe Marsh from St. Lawrence, who can be both
entertaining and persuasive
• An administrator like Ron Mason, the athletic director
and former head coach at Michigan State, who played at St. Lawrence
Make no mistake,
these are five not-so-simple steps. You could beat out 150 candidates
for governor of California with less effort than these eight schools
will have to put forth. After all, the schools need a majority
of the 424 votes if it reaches the convention floor, while Arnold
and his opponents only need a plurality.
Still, there’s plenty of reason to think
that one way or another, it can be done.
do believe that this is going to work itself out,” Ralph
said. “It might be difficult, and it might lead to a lot
of work for some people, but it’s not the worst thing in
the world that could happen.”