This year, the annual celebration of Division III week ran from April 7 to April 13. The NCAA bills Division III Week as an “opportunity for all individuals associated with a Division III institution to observe and celebrate the impact of athletics and of student-athletes on the campus and surrounding community.”
Participating institutions are encouraged to conduct an outreach activity that involves either academic accomplishment, athletic experience or community service. The celebration of Division III’s 40th anniversary started back on August 6, 2013, and has continued throughout the academic year. Division III places an emphasis on the idea that the academic performance of student-athletes should be consistent with those of the normal student body. Vassar has certainly adhered to that mantra, since, unlike many other academic institutions, Vassar only recruits athletes whose high school academic performances are at a similar level to other applicants.
With a greater emphasis on having a normal college experience for student-athletes and the lack of a presence from advertisers and professional sports, the money in Division III is significantly less than in Division I or II. In fact, Division III athletics receive only 3.18 percent of the NCAA’s yearly operating budget ($26,000,000 in 2013-14), despite the fact that Division III is the NCAA’s largest division with 40 percent of total membership. That 40 percent includes 106,725 male and 76,775 female student-athletes. There are currently 448 member institutions in Division III that make up forty-three athletic conferences. 80% of all the active Division III member institutions are private schools such as Vassar, with an average enrollment of 2,620 students.
Division III week began in 2010 as part of the NCAA’s Division III Identity Initiative. The purpose was to solidify the identity of Division III as a place where “student athletes can ‘follow [their] passions and develop [their] potential’ within an approach that combines rigorous academics, competitive sports and an opportunity to pursue other interests.”
Over the last few years, Vassar has adhered to the NCAA’s recommendations for Division III Week activities. Vassar’s Athletic Communications Director Jamie Chagnon wrote in an emailed statement, “it [Division III Week] focuses on athletic experience, academic excellence and campus outreach and community service. In past years, we have had student-athlete day and also done a cookout where we give away stickers, barbecue, t-shirts.”
Vassar coaches and student-athletes have enjoyed the Division III Week activities in past years. Men’s and women’s fencing Head Coach and Assistant Director of Athletics Bruce Gillman wrote that, “Div 3 week is a good school and team spirit program. We really enjoyed it last year and the rally towels and temporary tattoos were a big hit.”
Women’s tennis Head Coach Kathy Campbell shares Coach Gillman’s enthusiasm for the week. “The D. III week celebration of student-athletes is a nice recognition for the largest division of the NCAA membership,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “It celebrates the priority of academics first and playing for the love of the sport which is an important reminder for all of college athletics. Vassar’s student-athletes certainly deserve this well-earned praise for their tremendous efforts and accomplishments in the classroom, on the courts/fields and for their broad range of extracurricular endeavors that contribute to the college community.”
Chagnon writes that for this year’s event, “We are planning on doing another student-athlete day this year, just not sure when quite yet. Probably on the 26th though. Also, we had some people help with Habitat For Humanity yesterday [April 12] to tie in with the community service aspect.”
Vassar students are encouraged to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Division III and Vassar Athletics on Saturday, April 26th by watching the men’s lacrosse team play Clarkson University at 1 p.m., and the women’s team plays Rochester Institute of Technology.