Division II Athletes Get a Life

On January 27, the Indianapolis Star published a letter from University of Indianapolis President Beverly Pitts, in which she acknowledged the role of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in helping to give Division II presidents the resolve to pass the recent “Life in the Balance” measures at the NCAA Convention. “Life in the Balance” measures include a reduction in student-athlete playing seasons in order to provide a more holistic educational experience to athletes, and avoid the scenario of “season creep” dominating athletes academic schedules. As stated by Pitts: “The [Division II presidents] became more resolved after a recent survey of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics revealed Division I presidents’ concerns about athletics spiraling out of control.” Her commentary is below:

“On Jan. 16, the 293 colleges and universities of the NCAA Division II moved to create a better-balanced life for student athletes — a shorter playing season, fewer competitions during the school year and a no-games, no-practice break in December.

Considering the growing public concern over academics taking a back seat to athletics at too many institutions of higher learning, it is surprising that this significant “Life in the Balance” initiative has not generated more attention.

Division II defines itself not as a steppingstone to Division I, but rather as a destination for exceptional athletes to compete at the highest level and also have fully integrated collegiate experiences. In carrying out that mission, presidents and chancellors took a bold step in pulling back just a bit from the season creep that has affected nearly every sport.

The Division II philosophy is that we expect our students to go pro in life, not sports. Our athletics programs are fully integrated into our operations and budget, and, although many athletes are on athletic scholarships, full rides are the exception. At the same time, Division II competition is not for slouches. The University of Indianapolis’ 21 sports, for example, include an unbeaten women’s basketball team, golf teams ranked in the Top 10 nationally (and boasting the 2009 national women’s champion), and volleyball and softball teams that went to NCAA finals.

As one of four Division II presidents in Indiana and the vice chair of the Division II President’s Council, I can tell you that our initiative isn’t just about reasserting the importance of learning. It is about encouraging student-athletes to have a rounded college experience that includes participating in activities, applying knowledge through internships, and developing civic responsibility through community service. And yes, having more time for study and reflection.

This measure could not have been adopted by individual colleges. It required a unified action, and is all the more significant because the presidents of those institutions took the lead, and representatives of faculty, student athletes and athletic administrators joined us in voting by an overwhelming majority to do what was best for students. They became more resolved after a recent survey of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics revealed Division I presidents’ concerns about athletics spiraling out of control.

One-sixth of UIndy’s 3,000 undergraduates are athletes. They are in no danger of failing; they are among our highest-achieving students. Yet if our athletes spent all of their non-classroom hours on the field, practicing or playing, they could graduate without truly experiencing all that college has to offer to help them blossom from teens into adults — the clubs, the cultural and social events, the internships and the service. Division II actually calls upon student-athletes to engage in community service; that’s how strongly we feel.

The undergraduate years represent one of the most remarkable periods of development in a young person’s life. While we give them opportunities to compete at a high level, we also need to help them make the most of their time with us, and set the tone for their future. Now, thanks to the collective decision of nearly 300 Division II coaches, athletic directors, students and presidents, we can ensure that we nurture “lives in balance.”