What Division I Could Learn From Division III

NCAA basketball

Photo: AP

In ESPN’s recent Michigan Fab Five documentary, Jalen Rose nonchalantly recalled his second year of playing college basketball at the University of Michigan, as “I didn’t feel like a college kid anymore. I felt like a pro that wasn’t getting paid.”I can’t stand that comment. That quote in itself explains everything that is wrong about Division I sports. It’s bothersome to think that someone who later made millions of dollars playing in the NBA doesn’t have the humility to just be thankful for that stage in his life.

The Division I Men’s Basketball tournament is underway and I am thrilled without any doubt. I love nothing more than watching March Madness.

I do however, have a problem with the greed of Division I sports. Sometimes I feel that Division I could learn some lessons from Division III.

A lot of people might not know this, but just as the craziness of March Madness begins for Division I, the Division III men’s and women’s basketball champions will be crowned this Saturday, March 19th.

I caught up with Pat Coleman, the Executive Editor of D3sports.com to learn more about the site and his thoughts on the Division III tournament and Division III sports as a whole.

Coleman went to a Division III college, Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C.

“It’s a division three school in a market of four pro sports teams and five Division I schools,” Coleman said. “After graduation I was the sports information director for a while and came to realise that first of all, our local media wouldn’t touch us because they had so many other options of things to cover and secondly there was just nobody covering Division III in general.”

D3hoops.com was started in the 1995-1996 season. Steve Ulrich, Executive Director of the Centennial Conference started the site and then later handed it to Coleman.

“When he (Ulrich) did it, it certainly wasn’t a business, it was even more labour of love. I know that they hosted it on their own computer and I remember him saying if he ever got more than seven people on the server at the same time, it would basically slow to a halt,” Coleman said.

Coleman took over the site in ’97.

“I figured that I would run the site for a couple of hours a night, two or three days a week, but now it’s become 30 to 40 hours a week because people are so interested in the subject matter,” Coleman said.

Then Coleman expanded to football and other sports including men’s and women’s basketball, football, baseball and men’s and women’s soccer by acquiring sites that covered the other sports.

Today the football site is the most popular even though men’s and women’s basketball have almost four times as many teams.

“I think in a lot of cases interest in basketball doesn’t really pick up until late to mid-January and at that point in the Division III season there’s only about six weeks left,” Coleman said.

Unlike Division I athletics, Division III programs cannot offer students athletic scholarships. Coleman sees other influential factors that take Division III schools away from the spotlight that Division I programs hold.

“Division III has smaller schools so a school like Cabrini or Swarthmore doesn’t have 40,000 students at it like Penn State or Michigan does. Your alumni base is smaller at a Division III school; it doesn’t have the kind of massive regional identity the way people across a large swath of Pennsylvania might identify with Penn State or someone in Ohio would certainly identify with Ohio State. They don’t really identify with Franklin and Marshall or John Carol University or something quite the same way,” Coleman said.

The NCAA in the Division III bracket rather than flying teams all the way across the country or matching teams from two or three different parts of the country at the same site in the first round will instead create a bracket that is emphasised more on whose in the region so that they can avoid paying for a plane flight at all cost.

The NCAA pays for all of the expenses for travel for teams in Division I, II and III for the post season. At the Division I level, containing costs is not really as big of an issue but at the Division III level it’s a very big issue.

“The brackets are set up with the intent of teams travelling in buses. In this year’s tournament Middlebury College in Vermont should have hosted the first round sectional tournament but because Middlebury is too far away from St. Mary’s down in Maryland the NCAA had to pick one of the four schools that had a more central location and that is why the University of Rochester hosted the tournament instead of Middlebury,” Coleman said.

Whitworth College from Spokane, Wash. might never host this late in the tournament, because the NCAA is always trying to pinch its pennies. If the games were at Whitworth all three teams would be flying out there and the NCAA doesn’t want to pay for that.

All of the tournament games up until the Final Four are played on campus somewhere; there are no neutral site games. It’s always going to be hosted by one of the schools in the bracket until the Final Four, which is going to be played this Friday, March 18th.

“In Division III there is more emphasis on getting Division III students back to the classroom,” Coleman said. “The season doesn’t last as long. They’re not permitted as much practice time and there are fewer games in the season. All of which contribute to the season being about two and a half weeks shorter.”

In the Men’s bracket 9 of the top 10 teams were still left in the Sweet 16 round. Unlike the Division I tournament which typically has at least one blockbuster upset in the first round, there was only one really massive upset in the first weekend.

“This is all a part time gig. This is no one’s full time job,” Coleman said. He works as a news editor of a major telecommunications wireless company during the day. “There’s a lot of work and a lot of love that goes into it, but there’s not a whole lot of money that comes back out the other way.”

Chris Pesotski is a ’92 graduate of Cabrini College where he played and later coached from ’94 through ’02. Pesotski is a regular contributor and broadcasts games for D3hoops.com. He sees a big difference between Division I and III.

“The business models are just two completely separate kinds of approaches. The Division I model obviously tries to get 30,000 people in a giant building for the first round games and the NCAA Division III tournament on the other hand is really looking to reward programs that are successful during the season and they get home games,” Pesotski said.

“From a player’s perspective it’s hard to say what is better, to play in front of 30,000 people or to play on your home court? The hard thing is really the made for TV nature of the Division I tournament versus the Division III tournament which is really made to be watched in person, in front of 2,000 fans that are really strong supporters of the particular programs.”

Social media has been huge with helping small college basketball to attract new people and to keep them interested. “It used to be that you’d play for your four years and then after you leave how much do you really stay involved with the program? Social media between Facebook and Twitter and D3hoops.com really keeps fans involved a lot longer,” Pesotski said.

Pesotski emphasised that the great thing about Division III is that you get to see young coaches on their way up.

There are a lot of great coaches at the Division I level that started in the Division III ranks. Bo Ryan head coach of Wisconsin, won national championships at Wisconsin Platteville before he moved on to Division I.

“Because you tend to see programs where kids play four years instead of playing for two years and entering the NBA draft or playing for a year and failing out, you see guys that come and play and get better. The fans get to watch players progress and develop into better players right before your eyes,” Pesotski said. “The great thing about Division III basketball is watching players get better every time you get to see them play. Division I players are really really good when they get there and they are not necessarily going to get a whole lot better, they might get more polished, they might understand the game a bit more but there not going to get a ton better.”

Division III sports will never reach the level of attention that Division I athletes receive from March Madness to the BCS Championship, but that’s how it should be.

Pesotski gave credit to Coleman for his role in the development of Division III because credit is due.

“Pat Coleman has done more for Division III sports than anyone, more than the NCAA,” Pesotski said.

You see Jalen, not everyone is involved in sports for the money. Take a slice of Coleman’s humble pie.

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