Final article from several yeas ago in a three part series about Williams and the NCAA by Adam Bloch ’06.

Williams wonders what’s there to fix
Despite minor variations in opinion and the occasional renegade
viewpoint, a mostly united philosophycourses through the athletic
offices of Williams College with regard to a potential split in
the NCAA’s Division 3 because of membership growth. Men’s
basketball head coach Dave Paulsen described it best.
“I’m always of the opinion that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” he
said earlier this week.

There is certainly nothing broken for Williams when it comes to
athletics. The Ephs have built a reputation as a well-honed winning
machine on the collegiate fields, courts, rinks, and pools of
Division 3 over the past decade. Since the NESCAC began participating
in NCAA championships in 1993, Williams has won 13 national titles
and nine out of 10 Directors’ Cups – an award given yearly to the
college in each division with the most overall athletic success.
The Ephs have managed to win so much despite competing against a
constantly increasing field of opponents in Division 3 (417 other
colleges this year) that includes institutions with enrollments five
times as large and half as many teams. Success against that sort of
competition has made many Williams coaches content with the current
state of the division.

“I enjoy competing against the top track schools,” track and field
head coach Ralph White said. “If we split, they would be in a
different division than us just because they’re a different type of
school. I want to compete against the best. I definitely prefer
keeping things the way they are.”

White coached at three Division 1 universities before joining the
Ephs, and he isn’t the only Williams coach with previous experience
at a range of different institutions. Baseball head coach Bill
Barrale was on the staff at three other Division 3 schools before he
came to Williamstown.

“I don’t think you need to tamper with the system,” he said. “The
NCAA has unfortunately let this thing grow into a problem. How do you
group the schools now? By money, by state schools and private
schools?”

Barrale was an assistant coach for several years at Rowan, a public
university in New Jersey with more than 8,000 undergraduate students
but only 16 varsity teams. He believes that such schools are at the
root of the division’s current problems.

“There is a Division 2 already in place,” Barrale said. “These big
Division 3 schools should just go up a different division. Why change
Division 3 when there are other divisions already out there? State
schools that have 12,000 enrolled and want to emphasize athletics
more than the NESCAC should just go play in Division 2.”

Barrale is not alone in his opinion. A report presented by John Fry,
president of Franklin & Marshall College and chairman of Division 3’s
President Council, at the 2007 convention suggested that institutions
“re-evaluate current membership classifications, with Division (2) as
a viable option.”

It seems like an easy solution to Division 3’s membership growth
problems. Though Division 2 has grown with the rest of the NCAA over
the past two decades, it has stagnated a bit as many colleges have
moved up or down in classification.

“Before they think about dividing up or splitting Division 3, I think
they should investigate bumping some teams to Division 2 because
Division 2 seems like a dying breed right now,” Williams football
head coach Mike Whalen said. “A lot of schools don’t have 32 varsity
sports like Williams. They may have 12 or 14. Because they don’t have
a big variety of sports, they want more of a year-round practice
opportunity for their kids. The schools with more sports are less
supportive of that because it doesn’t encourage kids to play two
sports. To me, Division 3 should provide the opportunity for students
to play multiple sports.”

Fielding 32 teams, though, puts Williams at the extreme of Division
3. The sports sponsorship average in the division is 17.4 teams.
Nearly half of Williams students participate in at least one varsity
sport, while the Division 3 average is 21.4 percent. Most
importantly, the Ephs have the funding necessary to support such a
large athletic program. That commitment has been backed up by
large-scale projects like the recent construction of Renzie Lamb
Field and the planned renovation of Weston Field in a couple of years.
Few other colleges have such institutional resources, so they often
decide to focus their athletic department on a fewer number of teams.
Though that leads to great diversity between Division 3 schools like
Williams, MCLA and Rowan, most Williams head coaches the Transcript
contacted welcomed such differences.

“I hope (a split) doesn’t happen because I think the diversity of
schools in the division is good for our athletes,” Paulsen said. “We
tend to play very like-minded institutions during the regular season,
but on those chances when we’ve advanced to the postseason and played
much different schools, we’ve found that the kids and the programs
were very similar.

“We love to compete against everyone and anyone in the country that
is guided by the philosophy that nobody’s getting a scholarship. I
think people make too much of the differences in the division. There
are plenty of different institutions, and to have all of us play
against each other is a good thing. It can help erase stereotypes
between schools.”

One of the few voices of dissent belongs to track and field assistant
coach Dick Farley, who, as a member of the College Football Hall of
Fame, packs perhaps the biggest profile among Williams coaches.
“I’ve always felt that we should just focus on competing with the
NESCAC,” he said. “I’m not a big proponent of the NCAA. I’m more of a
regional guy. I think I’m in the minority. A lot of the other people
on the athletic staff might think the NCAA is the end all and be all.
I’m old school and I’ll admit it, but I respect the other viewpoint.”

Though Williams and the NESCAC have mostly supported the legislative
reforms enacted over the past several years by Division 3 to limit
growth and cut back on season length, the general sentiment in the
Chandler Athletic Center is against a split. It is a viewpoint
endorsed almost consistently from the coaching to the administrative
level.

“I just don’t think (a split) necessary,” acting athletic director
Lisa Melendy said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m unresolved as
to how one would split. I think it would be very difficult. It’s not
clear if it would be done on a basis of competitiveness, size or
philosophy. I like the diversity of the division, which allows us to
test ourselves against other kinds of schools and some of the best
competition. Ultimately, it’s not the athletic department’s decision
to make – it’s the president’s decision.”

That decision, likely to come at the 2009 convention, will belong
equally to the presidents of Division 3’s 418 active members. But
Williams President Morton O. Schapiro may have a bigger role than
most as a new member of the Presidents Council.
“As a member of the council, I am reserving final judgment until I
hear what the different sides have to say,” he wrote in response to
an e-mail last week. “But here is where I stand right now: I have
been very happy with the changes we have put into place in NESCAC. If
other schools and conferences take a different view with regard to
practices, schedules and the like, it doesn’t bother me very much as
long as they adhere to the guiding principle of Division 3 – no
athletic scholarships.

“These philosophical differences might place us at a competitive
disadvantage in the NCAA tournament, but we already end up competing
against schools that are five times our size and it makes it all the
sweeter when we prevail.”

Anyone have any updates on this topic?

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