Division III vote puts McCardell on spot

Frederick native chairs Presidents Council with vision JHU doesn't share


January 12, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Middlebury College president John M. McCardell Jr. would seem an unlikely danger to one of Baltimore's sporting traditions.

The 54-year-old Frederick native married a Park School graduate. And McCardell spent a year at Johns Hopkins beginning in fall 1972, pursuing a graduate degree in history before moving on to Harvard.

"I started going to the Baltimore Orioles games when they had players no one heard of," he said, remembering Gus Triandos' inside-the-park home run in the 1950s.

But as chairman of the NCAA Division III Presidents Council, McCardell has been in the position of defending legislation that -- if passed in a vote here today -- might force Hopkins to choose between its strong lacrosse program and its standing in Division III, with its lower priority on athletics.

Proposal 65, drafted in August and recommended in October by the council headed by McCardell, would eliminate the NCAA bylaw that has allowed Hopkins and seven other schools with Division III teams to offer athletic scholarships in two sports in which they compete in Division I.

College sports are classified according to the size of the school's financial investment in athletics. The top tier is Division I, whose athletes are the most talented, usually receive scholarships and play in large venues. In Division II, programs cost less, and athletes, who aren't as talented as those in Division I, may get partial scholarships. In Division III, schools generally spend the least and give no scholarships to athletes, who usually aren't as talented as Division II players.

The elimination of the waiver -- which also has been enjoyed by Colorado College, Hartwick, Oneonta, Rutgers-Newark, St. Lawrence, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Clarkson since the NCAA divided into three groups in 1973 -- is only a small part of a reform package for Division III. Also proposed are a reduction in season schedules, the elimination of redshirt seasons and instituting financial-aid audits for student-athletes.

Proponents of Proposal 65 suggest a central feature of Division III is that its schools don't offer athletic scholarships, and roughly 60 percent of those schools who responded to a survey last year supported it.

"It's not about who you play, not the level at which you play," McCardell said. "It's about subsidizing athletes."

Not surprisingly, he's the one who ends up as the lightning-rod figure, though observers see him as being plain-spoken but restrained.

"Because he's our chairman and spokesman on this and other issues, he gets the hit if people don't like it, praise if they like it," Bridgewater College president and Presidents Council vice chair Phillip C. Stone said. "With the intensity of the views on that particular subject, it was important for him to be restrained, civil and polite."

"It's not us against John McCardell," said Johns Hopkins athletic director Tom Calder. "It's just the membership voting for or against something John McCardell personally feels will improve Division III. We just happen to disagree."

Though Hopkins president William F. Brody presides over a larger school (by about 1,500) than Middlebury's 2,350 students, he and McCardell run schools with sophisticated athletic programs for the levels they're on.

Middlebury has won 18 NCAA team titles since 1995. And in McCardell's 12 years there, the school has built a $17.5 million, 2,100-seat hockey rink that highlights athletic facility improvements including a new track and field complex, a natatorium and a new football field.

Such spending counters a reform movement that hopes to rein in athletic programs. But, speaking by phone from the Middlebury campus, McCardell said the new digs were overdue.

"We had let some things slide for a very long time that need to be replaced," said McCardell, who is stepping down as president this summer and will return to teaching. "The ... things we did and the order in which we did them had some logic to it and were meant to benefit more than just the varsity teams."

McCardell's road to the council chair began in his term as president of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, a position he held for 18 months beginning in 1999.

As his term was ending, he was asked about his interest in a seat on the Division III Presidents Council, which he took in 2001.

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