January 10, 2004
Proposal 65: No Easy Answers

By Nate Ewell

The future of Division I hockey at Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence could be at stake at the NCAA Convention Monday in Nashville. Here’s a quick question-and-answer primer on the issue:

I heard about this over the summer, but figured that it sounded so ridiculous, it would just blow over. Can you give me the 60-second explanation of what’s going on?

The Division III schools in the NCAA are voting on a large reform package at the NCAA Convention in Nashville. Most of the reforms have broad, if not unanimous, support, but one – Proposal 65 – calls for the elimination of athletic scholarships at Division III schools that “play up” in Division I in one or two sports. This affects eight schools nationwide, four of which play college hockey – Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence.

Those eight schools have offered an amendment, Proposal 65-1, that would essentially act as a grandfather clause, allowing them to retain athletic scholarships. The 424 Division III schools will vote on both Proposal 65 and Proposal 65-1 on Monday in Nashville. So if you support the eight schools, you want either Proposal 65 to be defeated or Proposal 65-1 pass. Both require a majority vote.

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 affirmed its support for the proposal.

Jan. 9-12, 2004
NCAA Convention, Nashville, Tenn. The vote will take place on Monday the 12th, most likely in the morning.

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

Related Links

Online petition
Proposal 65-1 Brochure (.pdf)
INCH: Five Steps to Defeat Reform
Find news stories about the proposal on the INCH Newsstand

So what are the odds?

It’s very hard to say, and could be close enough to bring out Tim Russert and his dry erase board. The athletic directors and presidents who have been making personal pleas to their colleagues at other schools, so they would know best, but they seem reluctant to make predictions.

Still, there’s optimism.

“I'm always optimistic," Rensselaer Athletic Director Ken Ralph told the Albany Times Union. "I feel good about the associations I've made with the other seven schools. We feel good about what we've done. I think we're going in optimistic, that we'll be successful.”

Coaches – who have plenty of other things on their minds this time of year – say that they haven’t thought much about Monday’s vote.

“To be honest, I haven't really thought about it that much because it's out of our hands now," Clarkson head coach George Roll told INCH. "I'm optimistic about it because the schools have done a very good job of getting the information out there and spreading some truths about the proposal."

What have the eight schools done to get the word out?

The schools have done an impressive job of making a coordinated appeal to the rest of Division III. They have created an attractive printed brochure, set up a spotprop65.com web site, and made personal contact with other voters. They’ve even gathered the support of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who appeared at a Thursday press conference at Rensselaer’s Houston Field House. Five of the eight schools affected are in New York.

“We've talked to almost every (athletic director) in the country in Division III," Ralph said to the Times Union. "One of our priorities was to get to everybody individually and talk to them about this particular issue. It has gone very well, but I don't think any one of us can relax until after the vote on Monday."

Rensselaer has been a leader among hockey schools in getting the word out, with strong efforts from Ralph, President Shirley Ann Jackson, and sports information director Kevin Beattie.

Their work has had an impact on other A.D.s.

“It's one of the strongest lobbying efforts I've seen in my 15 years here," Salisbury athletic director Michael Vienna told the Baltimore Sun. "When you consider a proposal that just affects eight institutions, they're doing a great job of getting their point across."

What’s the big deal for the other schools? Why was this even proposed?

In other words, why so much venom for Middlebury right now?

To answer that part, Middlebury President John McCardell is the Chair of the Division III Presidents’ Council, and is leading the charge for this reform package.

The reform package is meant to keep athletics within the Division III philosophy, and supporters feel that granting athletic scholarships runs against that philosophy.

Proponents of the eight schools note that they are hardly the villains when people discuss what’s wrong with college sports. Nothing’s broke, they claim, so why fix it? That question hasn’t persuaded the Division III members who have led the charge for reform.

“The issue is athletic scholarships. Let's debate that issue," McCardell told the Sun. "The evidence is the [1983] waiver [that allowed these schools to provide athletic scholarships in the first place]. It's a general acknowledgement that what they're doing is at variance from what is the Division III philosophy."

Who stands to lose the most?

In all honesty, the one institution with the most at stake in Monday’s vote is probably Johns Hopkins, which has a lacrosse program that is beyond compare in college hockey circles, despite Princeton and Syracuse's dominance in the sport lately (think of North Dakota and Boston University’s hockey teams, combined). But each of these eight schools has a tremendous amount of history, tradition and identity invested in these particular sports.

As a sport, college hockey clearly stands to be the biggest loser if the Proposal 65-1 is defeated. There are four men’s hockey teams that would be affected – women’s hockey, with two programs, is the only other sport with more than one team in this fight.

Has the proposal had any impact yet?

Even though nothing has been passed, the possibility of it happening has been a cloud over these programs all year. It has especially plagued recruiting, since next year's incoming freshmen will be seniors in 2008-09, when the change would go into effect.

“It put a lot of guys on hold and a lot of guys weren't patient to see what was going to happen," Clarkson's Roll said. "Things are speeding up so much these days in the recruiting process and kids are making decisions earlier and earlier every year. Not being able to offer these kids (a guarantee) presented a bit of a problem and we lost some kids that we might have had a chance with otherwise."

Is there anything left to be done?

Back when this situation first came to light, Inside College Hockey outlined the five steps the schools needed to follow to defeat the proposal. They’ve followed steps one through four to a T, and if that hasn’t worked, they have one more shot to sway the voters.

The eight schools will have a final chance to present their case during a business session on Sunday (the vote takes place Monday morning). Understandably, they wanted to get their message out in person beforehand, and they’ve done an admirable job of that. But an impassioned plea from the convention floor can make a difference. Several observers recall the case of Peter Vidmar, a former UCLA and Olympic gymnast, who convinced the membership to vote against eliminating the men’s gymnastics championship a few years ago.

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson will speak at the NCAA Convention, and others voting delegates – usually a school’s president or athletic director – are likely to join her.

What’s next?

If the vote goes well from a college hockey standpoint, it’s business as usual.

Otherwise, each school will have to make a decision. To continue playing Division I hockey, Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence would have two choices:

• Continue playing these sports at the Division I level but not offer scholarships (most have dismissed that as not an option).
• Elevate their entire athletic programs to the Division I or II levels (a costly proposition).

Some of the eight schools – probably all, at least privately – have considered their alternatives should they not get the votes Monday. But in essence, “what’s next?” is a question for another day.

These eight teams, and the rest of college hockey, hope that day never comes.

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