The NCAA self identifies as an organization focused on cultivating an environment that emphasizes academics, fairness, and well-being across college sports. The organization is going through turbulent times and some deep conversations after they lost in the Alston Supreme Court case. As the NCAA faces uncertain legal and legislative times moving forward, they will need to rely on the academic and athletic balance that Division III schools bring to the organization more than ever in their arguments and explanation of who the NCAA is.
The NCAA has changed quite a bit from their initial formation. America was demanding change in college athletics in the early 1900’s because of the growing number of injuries and deaths in the sport in football. Reform was encouraged by President Roosevelt in 1905, after his son was injured playing football for Harvard. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States which later became the NCAA in 1910 was formally established on March 31, 1906, to reform the rules and regulations of all college athletics but primarily football.
The NCAA has insisted student-athletes cannot be paid because of the amateurism of NCAA sports. They have used this defensive argument as they have become one of the most legally challenged defendants regarding anti-trust exempt and tax-exempt organizations in the country. An organization founded on developing uniform safety agreements to prevent injuries and death on the football field is now a billion dollar a year enterprise centered on amateurism. An example of the power of the NCAA economically is demonstrated by coaches in college football and basketball are the highest paid state employee in 42 of the 50 states.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said at the 2020 NCAA Convention that the NCAA is in the human development business. In all three divisions! Developing opportunities for student-athletes in academics, sports and in life. It seems they have placed a little more financial support behind the Division I side of things than Division II and III. The NCAA loves to talk about the tradition and sanctity of the student-athlete but often fails to hold true to its original meaning in all divisions.
Division III received 3.23 percent of the annual NCAA budget in 2018-19 despite representing 41% of the membership and with 38% of the total student-athletes. Division II with 27% of the members and 23% of student-athletes received 4.37% of the annual NCAA budget. Division I with 32% of the members and 40% of the student-athletes received 92.4% or almost 700 million dollars of the $1,000,854,922 of the total expenses of the three divisions. It is important to note that under the leadership of the NCAA, most college athletic programs lose money and must be subsidized by their respective university. A billion-dollar industry has the majority of its membership losing money.
In order to keep their tax exemption and possible anti-trust exemption, the NCAA must maintain that college sports is a major part of the academic mission of the university and as such it furthers the educational mission. The recent NIL changes make the long-term possibility of players getting paid much closer to reality. Therefore, they desperately need Division III. It is here that academic and athletic balance truly exists.
Division III is where the student-athlete is subject to the same standards regarding admissions, academic qualifications, housing, and support services as the general body. The integration of athletics within the larger institution enables student-athletes to experience every aspect of campus social and academic life. In division III student-athletes enjoy a well-rounded college experience that balances rigorous academics, competitive athletics, and the ability to participate in other co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities.
The primary focus of a student-athlete in Division III is the degree. Financial aid is based on need of the student-athlete and not how much the program needs them. Division III athletic programs are broad based and offer diverse opportunities for men and women. The student-athlete in Division III learns the same lessons in teamwork, discipline, perseverance, and leadership as those in Division I and II.
This is why Division III is so important to the NCAA and their effort to maintain their mission is still in place. They truly represent what the NCAA says they stand for. And for just 3.23% of the annual budget, the NCAA is getting a heck of a deal.