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Publish date: Sep 3, 2013

Division III celebrates its 40th Anniversary


This might have been the 40th anniversary of Division C, or perhaps the Blue Division, had one of the ideas for naming what is today the NCAA’s largest membership division gained support in 1973.

Instead, a vote that year to divide a single Association into three divisions sparked the evolution of a distinctive approach to intercollegiate athletics, shaped a unique experience for student-athletes and gave special meaning today to the name that 233 schools agreed to adopt for themselves four decades ago:

Division III

This year, with a membership now approaching 450 schools, the division has begun a celebration of its 40th anniversary that will extend through 2013-14.

Plans for the coming year include a weekly online feature beginning in mid-September focusing on former student-athletes from 1973 or later who exemplify the division’s attributes: Proportion, comprehensive learning, passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship. The series, named 40-in-40, will show how these individuals followed their passions and discovered their potential during their time on Division III campuses, which led to success in pursuits ranging from law and medicine to politics, arts and sciences.

There also will be celebratory programs scheduled at the 2014 NCAA Convention, during Division III Week (scheduled for April 7-13, 2014), and at Division III championships throughout the year.

Two important figures in NCAA history, Kenneth Weller and Bridget Belgiovine, recently helped kick off a year celebrating Division III’s history and philosophy with a lunch and learn for NCAA staff one day after the 40th Anniversary of the reorganizational vote.

Weller, former president at Central (Iowa) and the primary author of the Division III philosophy statement, discussed the important role played by campus presidents over the past four decades during a presentation to members of the Division III Presidents Council and Presidents Advisory Group.

Both Weller and Belgiovine, a former NCAA director of Division III who also has served as an elected division officer and as athletics director at Wisconsin-LaCrosse, talked about their experiences within Division III. They reflected on the time each spent as student-athletes at member schools: Belgiovine was a lacrosse player at Trenton State, which is now The College of New Jersey; Weller was a football player at Hope. Weller also recalled his experiences as a professor of business and economics and as an assistant football coach at his alma mater.

Weller’s connection with schools that were charter Division III members dates to before 1973, but he became actively involved in NCAA governance four years after the reorganizational vote. He helped lead the effort to write the philosophy statement that today continues to guide Division III.

The vote to create Division III – and another vote soon after to eliminate athletics scholarships – occurred before the division actually defined itself philosophically.

“That was a problem for us,” he said. “All we did was define Division III as being the absence of financial aid for students. It was a negative designation—who are we? We ain’t this. It was very frustrating, because we knew there were very positive things about Division III. It was something good that we were trying to accomplish. It was that desire to define what the role of athletics should be for individuals that motivated us.”

Belgiovine, who competed before the NCAA hosted women’s championships, credited her student-athlete experience as exemplary of what is offered by Division III and for helping shape her own philosophy as an administrator.

“I had passion, I had commitment and I had dedication, and this desire in my gut – I loved to play,” Belgiovine said. “I’ll play anything, any sport imaginable. And that really has been the driving force for me – a passion and a commitment to move forward, not just myself but people around me.

“And that’s the essence of Division III. You are engaging in educational activities that include academics and intercollegiate athletics. And there is no better place to watch someone grow and mature than a place where academics are important and a place where experiences are critically important to overall development. That has been my life; I’ve grown that way.”

The Lunch and Learn panel discussion was moderated by Division III vice president Dan Dutcher, and served as a primer not only for Division III’s philosophical ideals, but also efforts during its history – in which both Weller and Belgiovine were active participants – to promote gender and sport equity while broadening access to and support for championships participation by student-athletes.

Weller urged staff members attending the session to be proud of their support for student-athletes.

“I was a teacher and coach for a long time, and in that time I came to feel good about what I’ve done,” he said. “I feel good about what I’ve done for other people. I believe that you, working for this organization, have an effect on lives. And not just producing entertainment, but in the lives of young people – 178,000 of them (currently competing in Division III) are better people because of what you are doing, and you ought to feel good about that. It’s not (very) visible, but it’s true there is something more than athletics – you are changing lives through athletics and education. You are part of that.

But Weller also urged Division III to work harder and improve – asking it to “help people understand, help them know, what we’re trying to do.”

The 40th Anniversary celebration, as part of the Division III identity initiative, will be an opportunity for Division III to do just that, by celebrating the division’s history and philosophy while continuing to promote its unique qualities in intercollegiate athletics.

Division III’s membership is invited to become actively involved in that effort and will receive new resources to use for that purpose in the coming weeks. Every school and multisport conference will receive a 40th anniversary kit in mid-September that includes signage and promotional items. A website also is being developed as the home page not only for the 40-in-40 project, but also to feature information about Division III’s history as well as ideas for activating the celebration on campuses.

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