NCAA vote lets Hopkins keep waiver

Jays will continue to play Division I lacrosse, keep other sports at Division III

7 others lobbied to retain status

Division III philosophy is debated at convention

January 13, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - By a clear margin, NCAA members yesterday approved an amendment that thwarted attempts to eliminate Johns Hopkins' ability to offer scholarships for Division I lacrosse and play the rest of its sports at the Division III level.

Proposal 65-1, a measure sponsored by Hopkins and seven other schools that offer scholarships for a Division I sport, passed with about 70 percent of votes cast on the final day of business at an NCAA convention at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center.

Immediately after the victory, Hopkins president William R. Brody placed two brief yet clear calls to men's lacrosse and women's lacrosse coaches Dave Pietramala and Janine Tucker: "We won."

Without the change, the measure would have forced modification of the Baltimore school's athletic program - a possible switch to non-scholarship status for its lacrosse teams or a wholesale move to Division I for the rest of its sports teams.

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 generally 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 vote yesterday afternoon settled the question of the propriety of a waiver that allows Hopkins, Clarkson (N.Y.), Colorado College, Hartwick (N.Y.), Oneonta (N.Y.), Rensselaer Tech (N.Y.), Rutgers-Newark and St. Lawrence (N.Y.) to offer scholarships and to restrict the waiver to those schools.

"I was concerned all along," Brody said, a feeling that continued as one person assessed the group's four-month blitz, which included buttons and brochures, as "razzle-dazzle" during the debate. But the group was aided by delegates from schools they compete with most.

"The comments from the non-affected schools were the most persuasive - they just said that we don't have a unique advantage," Brody said.

Detractors contended that the practice runs counter to the philosophy of Division III athletics. The dispensation has been available to the eight schools since 1983 and had withstood three previous challenges.

Preserving it was one of only three defeats in a reform package recommended by the division's Presidents Council. The membership also rejected a move to eliminate contests out of season except for golf and tennis and a move to cut the number of competitions by 10 percent.

Afterward, Presidents Council chair John M. McCardell downplayed the Proposal 65 result, in light of what he saw as progress with financial-aid audits, the outlawing of redshirting (sitting out a year to preserve eligibility), and a general shrinkage of the sports seasons.

At the same time, he didn't think the eight schools and their marquee sports were permanently out of jeopardy.

"One is always disappointed when a measure is put up in front of a group and it's not adopted," said McCardell, who will step down from the post in April. "We made a heap of our winnings and we won most. [Proposal 65] strikes me as a definitive statement on the waiver, but I'm not sure it's a definitive statement about the multi-divisional classification."

In NCAA conventions in 1987, 1991 and 1994, the future of multi-divisional classification came under review, an issue created when the 1,025-school organization split into divisions in 1973, with Division III prohibiting athletic-based aid by its members a decade later.

Proposal 65 was the result of a survey taken by Division III members last year. A push to reform the division came at about the same time that William G. Bowen and James L. Schulman published The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values in 2000. The book revealed that athletes at elite schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, including Middlebury, had an edge in admissions and financial aid, while under-performing in the classroom.

As the Presidents Council and Management Council looked at ways to prevent what they saw as a drift toward the excess of Division I athletics, the members found themselves troubled by what they saw a departure from the core philosophy of Division III by the eight schools.

During the debate yesterday, Lincoln University president Ivory Nelson, a member of the Presidents Council, said the question of the waiver was "not what we've done, but what we should do in the future."

But another consideration was the reputation of the schools in the sports for which they have waivers. Hopkins, in addition to holding NCAA titles, is home to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Clarkson has the highest winning percentage in Division I men's ice hockey history.

That was foundation of the campaign by the eight schools, started in August when they were notified of what they saw as a threat. Two other planks were that none of the schools represented the need for college athletics reform, and none of the schools' Division III programs benefited from their Division I programs.

"We agree with the idea of reform," said John Fry, president of Franklin & Marshall, a fellow Centennial Conference member that competes in Division I wrestling without scholarships. "But the practical application is disruptive to Johns Hopkins, as well as the schools that compete with them. They give us as much as they get from us, and sometimes give more."

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