National stage for Div. III sports

Growing up, my dream had always been to play Div. I basketball. As a youngster, I woke up every weekend morning around 6 a.m. ready to open my drawer and pick out the NBA or NCAA jersey I was going to wear that day. With my jersey on, ball under my left arm, and a bright yellow headband around my long curly hair, I was ready to accompany my father to the gym where I watched him play pick-up with “the old guys.” As I got older and stronger, I drifted away from being just a spectator and spent the majority of my summers and weekends competing in basketball tournaments across the U.S. in the hopes of getting recruited and noticed by a major Div. I coach. Playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and having the opportunity to play on a national stage in front of thousands of fans and cheerleaders was something I really wanted to experience. This inspired my work ethic every time I picked up a basketball or stepped into a weight room.

Growing up in Maryland, my dream was to become a Maryland Terrapin and walk into the Comcast Center wearing a white and red warm-up shirt with a Maryland jersey underneath. Although this dream was never accomplished, I had no doubt in my mind that Williams basketball would provide me with a similar experience. I could not wait to put on my purple and gold jersey and play college basketball in front of all of Williams. When I officially committed to Williams, I had both coaches and mentors tell me, “Williams is the real deal”; “Williams is like Div. I basketball”; and “Williams can easily compete against mid-major Div. I schools.” Clearly, Williams and other Div. III programs have confirmed the latter. Williams, under Coach Paulsen, actually beat Holy Cross, a member of the Patriot League, in an early season matchup back in 2003. But, does Williams athletics actually resemble Div. I athletics?

Williams is clearly like Div. I in the quality of its coaching staffs, the energy and passion put into each of its programs and even the skill level of many of its athletes. But when I think of Div. I athletics, I think of T.V., cheerleaders and missing class to catch a plane across the country for a big game. Clearly, it is economically impractical for Williams, or any Div. III school for that matter, to spend the money Div. I programs do to travel the U.S. on a weekly basis. On the other hand, Williams and other schools such as Amherst and Trinity who take pride in their athletic programs have the money to allocate more funds towards athletics to make it more exciting for their student athletes and fans.

As an alum and ex-player, it would be great to see Williams allow two or three matchups per season for each sport in which teams are granted the opportunity to travel via plane to play an opponent that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to play: an opponent in the Midwest or even as far as the West Coast. Although this will require student athletes to miss class, it will require these same student athletes to manage their time in order to get their work done punctually. If UCLA, for example, has student athletes that can manage schoolwork away from class, Williams students can handle it as well. Not only would a national schedule heighten the excitement of Div. III college sports, but it also has the ability to bring Div. III sports together. For small schools such as Williams, a national schedule provides greater awareness of the school itself.

In addition, Div. III sports are strongly regionally divided; colleges in the Northeast play solely against other colleges in the Northeast. This routine is rarely broken unless it is NCAA tournament time, where the best teams from across the country compete for a national title. So why not have a NESCAC/NSCIAC Challenge resembling the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in which the schools from one league play schools from the other league and the conference with the most wins at the end of the challenge is crowned champion? Not only does this increase the excitement and competitive spirit of Div. III athletics, but it also brings the Div. III community together and improves its national exposure.

It seems like Div. III sports get a bad rap. They are considered by some to be an extension of high school sports and even disrespected by supposed national sports experts. It is time Div. III athletics takes it to the next level. There is no evidence that by doing so it will compromise academics. There are over 400 Div. I programs across the country supporting national athletic schedules, including renowned schools such as Harvard and Princeton. Div. III athletics are much better than they get credit for. It is time for schools at the top, such as Williams, to begin the process of change and step into their leadership role.