Division III schools offer flexibility for student athletes

By Amanda Malool
Many high school athletes dream of competing for a famous university, maybe receiving a full scholarship, saying “Hi, Mom!” on camera during a big bowl game, swimming at the Olympics, or training with professional baseball players. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I dream, however, is out of reach for all but an elite few. The answer for athletes who want to continue competitive sports past high school while pursuing their degrees might be a Division III college.
   D-III schools are generally smaller and  less well-known, but they can still provide a growing athlete with opportunities. According to The 2011-12 Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete, “Division III colleges and universities include rigorous academics, competitive athletics, and opportunities to pursue many interests and passions.”
Top athletes are often recruited by Division I coaches, but the college-search process for a student looking at a D-III school works in reverse. “To get coaches to notice me, I created a BeRecruited.com account and filled out prospective-athlete questionnaires on the athletic website of the schools I was interested in,” said senior swimmer Joe Dunn.
Mike Napolitano, class of 2011, is a freshman swimmer at Tufts University. “I corresponded via email with a number of coaches, and asked questions…the schools who expressed an interest in me as a recruit asked me to attend an official visit to their school, which gave me a taste of how each school worked. It provided me an opportunity to see each team in action and get a sense of which teams cared most about their sport,” said Napolitano. “I chose Tufts early decision after tons of deliberation. I started and finished both of my Tufts supplements the day I had to apply. Because of that, I only applied to one school!”
The NCAA states, “Division III…minimizes conflicts between athletics and academics, allowing student-athletes to focus on their academic programs and the achievement of a degree.”
Other athletes realize playing their sport will not be a lifelong career, but still want to enjoy their game in college.
“I decided early on that I wanted to swim in college, so I didn’t even consider schools at which I couldn’t swim. It also gave me the opportunity of a supported application, which is what all recruited athletes strive for,” said Napolitano. “A supported application is when the coach of the sport lets admissions know the name of the athlete and asks them to take a special interest in him or her. Depending on the school, this could have a large influence on admissions decisions or a small one.”
According to the  NCAA, “Division III offers a…competitive athletic environment for student-athletes who play for the love of the game.”
Travis Cortes, senior forward for the boys soccer team is considering Ramapo College. “I chose D-III because I wanted to make sure I was able to play [soccer] my freshman and sophomore year,” said Cortes.
Division I will never lose its appeal to athletes like senior Greg Baliko, a swimmer who has been recruited by Penn State, the University of Connecticut and other big schools.  “I am looking forward to the competition that it brings,” he said.
Other athletes prefer to concentrate on the academic side of college, like senior Mike Daly,  center back for the soccer team. “D-III is not as big of a responsibility as D-I is in terms of traveling, practice and games. I also want to be able to focus on school,” he said. “A benefit of a D-III school for an athlete is that they understand your sport isn’t your only priority.  At some D-I schools you are expected to go to every practice even if you have a conflict with class.”
“In D-III athletics…they understand if you have a conflict and try to work around it,” said senior Dan Pesin, a swimmer who is considering Washington and Lee University.
Whatever level of play a high school athlete is looking for, there are colleges that can meet those athletic needs along with academic objectives.