January 12, 2004
NCAA Verdict: Yes on 65-1

By Nate Ewell

Five months of lobbying and more than 100 years of tradition have helped preserve the hockey programs at Clarkson, Colorado College, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence.

The NCAA's Division III members voted today in favor of Proposal 65-1, an amendment those schools and four others put forth to protect their ability to offer athletic scholarship in the Division I sport, or sports, in which they participate. Proposal 65 also passed during the vote at the NCAA Convention in Nashville, but Proposal 65-1 effectively serves as a "grandfather clause," allowing those schools to retain athletic scholarships.

The vote ends months of hand-wringing and hard work at the eight schools, who were forced to persuade their fellow Division III members to support their position. The schools launched an impressive, coordinated campaign to get out their message, one which included a brochure, a web site and hundreds of pleas made in person or on the phone. Fans also voiced their support, with more than 8,500 signing an online petition in favor of the schools.

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Today's Reaction: Clarkson | Colorado College | Rensselaer | St. Lawrence

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Proposal 65-1 passed by a 296-106 vote, with 17 abstentions. Proposal 65 then passed, as amended, 304-89 with 18 abstentions.

"This is the culmination of five months of hard work by (Rensselaer President) Dr. (Shirley Ann) Jackson, our entire athletics department, the administration, our alumni, and countless other supporters who stood with us and helped tell our story," said RPI athletic director Ken Ralph. "The NCAA membership heard us loud and clear, and affirmed our belief in Rensselaerís athletics programs."

"It was a pretty substantial margin," reported Jeff Sauer, the former Colorado College and Wisconsin coach and current INCH columnist, who attended the convention in Nashville. "It's a real positive for hockey, especially with all the moving around in the past week. If the amendment had been voted down, these schools may have been able to maintain their programs at this level, but it would have required a lot of changes."

Had the amendment not passed, schools would have two options if they wanted to continue to compete in Division I: elevate the rest of their athletic programs to Division I or II, or compete at Division I without athletic scholarships. It could have had far-reaching effects throughout college hockey, especially in the ECAC. Three of the schools compete in the ECAC, which already faces membership questions after the loss of Vermont to Hockey East last week.

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 win allows coaches, who had faced obstacles in recruiting this fall, to assure potential student-athletes that they would compete at the highest level.

"Our menís hockey team can now move forward to continue recruiting the high-level student athletes that Rensselaer attracts," Rensselaer President Jackson said. "The vote also allows us to launch our plan to move our womenís ice hockey team to Division I status."

The schools emphasized tradition and an "if it's not broke, why fix it?" approach in their message to fellow Division III members. By offering the amendment, they gave voters an option to support both the original Proposal 65, which had the backing of the Division III President's Council, and the traditions at the eight schools.

"We are extremely grateful for the support that we received from our partners in Division III," Colorado College President Richard F. Celeste said in a statement. "We were confident that, once the Division III membership was able to study Proposal 65 and the negative effect it would have on our athletic programs, they would agree that the proposed legislation would do nothing to bring our academic mission and athletic participation into greater balance."

While Sauer noted that the margin of the vote was significant, he did say that there was passionate debate on the convention floor. The first speaker on the subject was particularly vociferous in her opposition to Division III schools playing a Division I sport.

The four college hockey schools have combined to make 57 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. At least one of the four participated in every one of the first 17 Frozen Fours.

INCH's Jeff Sauer contributed to this report.

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