Athletes participating in DIII week discuss unique cultural opportunity

Photo of Pamplin Sports Center
Leo Bernstein Newman / The Mossy Log

This week student athletes at Lewis & Clark celebrated Division III (DIII) week, an event organized by Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to highlight the opportunities athletes here have and the difference competing at an National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) DIII school makes.

The NCAA includes most accredited colleges and universities in the United States and divides all member schools into three divisions. LC is a NCAA Division III school. There are also National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) schools, which are all one division.

Division I schools are mostly public state schools, Ivy Leagues and other large institutions. In Division II schools are mostly larger private schools, and in Division III are mostly small liberal arts schools. Which division a school falls under actually has nothing to do with the number of students or programs. It is decided by the number of teams the school hosts. Generally, bigger schools can fill more sports teams with players, and thus are in higher leagues.

Division III is designed to give athletes more flexibility in prioritizing academics and diversifying their extracurriculars. Macy O’Hara ’24, who is on the Track & Field and Women’s Soccer teams, values that flexibility highly.

“I think being able to go to a DIII school allows me to play sports I really love,” O’Hara said. “And so I’m able to follow through with all of my passions academically and through my sports.”

SAAC president Sophia Pitre ’23, from the Rowing team, values her ability to participate without the pressure athletes would experience in higher-level competition.

“My coaches understand that we are at a Division III level, and they adjust their expectations to that,” Pitre said..  “They’re not expecting us to be practicing seven days a week at 7 a.m., every single day. They understand that our bodies need time to rest, and that us athletes are balancing it as well.”

Students at NCAA DI, NCAA DII and NAIA schools may receive athletic scholarships. Division rules mandate that no scholarships for athletics are offered at Division III schools. Student-athletes may receive any other scholarship so long as it is expressly not offered by the institution for a sports program. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to both systems. Athletic scholarships offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to athletes who would otherwise not be able to attend college. However, they come with catches. One such catch is the possibility of losing one’s scholarship if an injury, poor grades, or another circumstance stops the athlete from actively competing. Circumstances can be career-ending not only in the potential for a professional sports career, but also stop lower-income students from being able to attend school at all. The value of competing at a NCAA DIII school is that if an athlete must take time off of the sport to focus on school or recovering from an injury, there are no financial consequences.

Not everyone thinks DIII schools should be kept from offering scholarships, though.

“I do believe that division three schools should be able to offer athletic scholarships,” Petri said. “ … I think there should be a cap of how much is allowed. Because I do feel like when money gets involved, maybe some individuals choose to take a scholarship for not the right reasons, like maybe they aren’t in love with their sport, but they want to get to college or vice versa.”

Student athletes come from a variety of backgrounds, and the Division III rules seek to offer a flexible system that allows student athletes more freedom to pursue other interests and focus on academics while continuing their athletic career. No system is perfect, but students are grateful for the opportunities they’ve had to compete at this level at LC.

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