August 14, 2003
Five Steps to Defeat D-III Reform

By Nate Ewell

College hockey 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 this fall.

About the Proposal

In 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.

The Schools

Clarkson (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 Timeline

Aug. 7, 2003
The 15-member Division III President’s Council endorsed the reform package

Oct. 30, 2003
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

Jan. 9-12, 2004
NCAA Convention, Nashville, Tenn.

Aug. 1, 2008
Reform package, if passed, would take effect

What You Can Do

Sign the online petition

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.

There’s 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.

1. Have a Unified Voice

It’s 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.

“We 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.”

In addition, 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 debate.

“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.

2. Fight This Battle First

It’s 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 go.

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 in question."

3. Ask Your Supporters to be Vocal

Support from alumni, fans, and the college hockey community since this reform package was proposed has been impressive to say the least. An online 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.

4. 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.

Many point 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 net.

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 in between.

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 III.

5. 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.

There are 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.

“I really 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.”

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