The Division III Balance: A look at the role of athletics at the DIII level

As you turn on your TV to watch LSU play Alabama for a Saturday football game, or tune into March Madness to watch powerhouse basketball schools such as North Carolina, Duke and Kansas, you may be wondering how Whitworth’s Division III programs fit into the grand scheme.  There are an incredible array of differences between sports programs at larger schools compared to smaller ones, and perhaps the most important one is concerned with what the players do outside of those sports.

One of the stark differences between the larger programs of Division I and II versus Division III, is that Division III programs are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships to their athletes. While they are able to offer academic scholarships, the lack of a monetary influence to participate in college level athletics attracts a very different kind of athlete to the institution and proposes an entirely different living environment.

“A D3 institution, like Whitworth, offers a balance between athletic and academic life,” Whitworth Athletic Director Aaron Leetch said.  “It’s not to say that D1 institutions don’t necessarily have good academics, but athletes are typically living their sport.”

At both levels, the desire to compete and succeed is obvious.

“There’s no difference in the athletes themselves,” Leetch said.  “We still have competitive athletes that want to win and we recruit athletes that want to win.  There’s no difference in the idea that they work just as hard [as those from D1 programs].”

Even for someone who has experienced the Division I atmosphere, it is apparent just how different the lives of the students are and the role that coaches play in them compared to the Division III level.

“My job as a coach here at Whitworth at this D3 level is a lot about being a mentor for the next 40 years of their life rather than the next four,” Whitworth head men’s basketball coach Matt Logie said.

Logie previously served at Lehigh University as associate head coach in the NCAA Division I Patriot League before becoming head coach at Whitworth.

“The student absolutely comes first here and we are never [as faculty] going to steer them away from that,” Logie said.

Additionally, this attitude governs the lives of Division III athletes themselves.  Senior Wade Gebbers, who plays guard for the Whitworth basketball team, knows that well.

He emphasizes that going to Whitworth is more than just about playing basketball, even though the fact that Whitworth has the best game crowds for Division III Gebbers has ever seen makes playing basketball a great thing to do.

“Coaches always make sure that the emphasis is on the grades,” Gebbers said.  “I wanted to come here in the first place partially because the players were good off the court as well.”

Athletes at Whitworth know as well as any other Division III school athletes, that you can’t afford to only be an athlete at a place like this.

“Professors are very concerned with your academic life,” senior women’s golfer and basketball player Emily Guthrie said.  “The athletes are also expected to handle a bigger academic workload in Division III than in Division  I.”

However, that mentality transcends the mere idea of the classroom itself.

Sophomore baseball player Carson Blumenthal discussed his experience with the Division III style learning environment.

“Here at Whitworth, there is the opportunity to have a working relationship with your professors,” Blumenthal said.  “We’re held to a high standard here and to come here is really a life decision.”

The idea of the student-athlete gets emphasized so much in sports in the lives of young people, but only at Division III college institutions is it so integral and so profoundly part of their mission.

“We tend to refer to it as students who participate in inter-collegiate athletics,” Leetch said.  “We have students who come here who just happen to play sports.”

This environment completely changes the recruiting process when compared to a Division I school.  Whitworth baseball coach and former player Dan Ramsay says he enjoys the fact that he’s able to sell a quality education to athletes.

“We don’t make a distinction between the student-athlete and the student,” Ramsay said.  The financial investment is for your education, while playing baseball is a privilege.”

Understanding the dynamic between student and athlete is a concept that is a key point of emphasis.

“The big challenge is educating people on what Division III is and what it means,” Ramsay said.

As athletic director, Leetch says that he knows that what really sets Division III apart is rooted in the mindset of every coach and player at Whitworth.

“No one is ever conflicted day-to-day about doing the right thing,” Leetch said.

Connor Soudani Staff Writer

Contact Connor Soudani at csoudani16@my.whitworth.edu.