Letters to the Editor

Division III Athletes Are Not 'Gladiators'

January 01, 2012

To the Editor:

Despite the headline, the essays in "What the Hell Has Happened to College Sports?" (The Chronicle, December 11) are not about college sports. Everyone who contributed is referring to a select group of colleges that make up roughly less than 5 percent of institutions that are part of the NCAA's 1,200-plus membership of colleges across its three divisions. While the institutions you discuss may be running athletic enterprises instead of integral components of the higher-education experience, it is shortsighted to use a wide brush to paint the entire NCAA membership through the lens of the money-driven institutions of the BCS football arena.

No one in these essays bothers to ask if the other sports would exist at Division I institutions if it weren't for football and basketball revenue, but then again no one seems to care if the collegiate Olympic engine would survive under some of the models proposed by these writers. In reality would we, the United States, bring home as many medals if it weren't for the collegiate track, swimming, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and other exemplary programs that are the world of college sports, particularly within Division III, the largest of the three divisions that make up the NCAA?

In general our athletes are not "gladiators." Our student-athletes graduate from college on time, at a higher rate than students in general, and they go on to apply the values they have learned as participants in college sports to successful professional careers and in their personal lives. The issue that needs to be addressed here is that at some places the revenue generators/contributors become more important than the ethical and moral responsibilities the administrators are supposed to uphold.

In these essays, your guests largely choose to advocate for a minority group of college athletes in Division I football and basketball programs. Let's be honest, these students do not make decisions in the dark. Parents are a major presence in the college-selection and sports processes. These students and their families know the real game they are signing up to play. What should those that feel like gladiators do? Well, tell them to turn down those scholarships and just be regular students who pay their own way. Then all of a sudden they will start appreciating the free education, free room and board, free travel around the country, free gear, free medical, academic, marketing, and media-support staff. Tell me how much that is worth over a four-year period to a student?

As someone with 20 years of intercollegiate athletic experience, I take special offense to the notion that you see Division III as a "downgrade." In fact, Division III is an upgrade in the intercollegiate athletics world since we are the closest thing to doing it right, from an amateur perspective. Our student-athletes attend college in order to receive diplomas, and in the process enjoy their athletic participation "for the love of the game," which makes them richer for the experience.

Yes, they are amateurs. Maybe the student-athletes you cover aren't, but perhaps all of you could learn a thing or two about the other 95 percent, the real student-athletes of the NCAA. Come and visit us, get to know the other 395,000 student-athletes who appreciate their experience and become professionals in something other than sports.

Zak Ivkovic
Executive Director
CUNY Athletic Conference
The City University of New York
New York