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Another Voice: Division II programs offer student athletes balance

By Gary A. Olson

In May, Daemen College will complete its first year as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division II, the only Division II college in Western New York. While most people who follow college sports are familiar with Division I and its powerhouse athletics programs – Alabama, Kentucky, Penn State – few can articulate what the organization’s three divisions stand for.

Too many people (not to mention media organizations) assume that Division I is the “big time,” and the other two divisions are inferior. The truth is that each of the three divisions is impelled by a specific mission and philosophy; understanding these differences may put college athletics in perspective not only for sports fans but for everyone – especially those deciding what kind of college to attend.

While Division I generally features the largest schools, the biggest athletics budgets and the most generous number of athletics scholarships, and Division III institutions place their highest priority on students’ overall educational experience and do not award athletics scholarships, Division II institutions are committed to a healthy balance between academics and athletics – hence the Division’s motto, Life in the Balance.

Division II athletics programs promote a challenging equilibrium among excellence in the classroom, community service and rigorous athletics competition. The members of Division II total more than 90,000 student-athletes at 300 colleges in 44 states.

Unfortunately, the stories of scandal and NCAA violations splashed across sports pages nationwide more often than not involve major Division I athletics programs. Division II colleges, while not immune to problems within their athletics departments, are decidedly different from Division I schools.

First, about 87 percent of the division’s colleges enroll fewer than 8,000 students. Unlike Division I, Division II institutions do not offer full athletics scholarships; they offer a healthy mix of athletics scholarships, academic aid, need-based grants and employment opportunities.

Most importantly, Division II student-athletes consistently graduate at rates higher than their student body counterparts – an indication that the life-in-the-balance philosophy is paying off for our students.

Our student-athletes graduate, demonstrate leadership, engage with their communities and develop the skills they need to maintain healthy and productive lifestyles. Come to think of it, isn’t that what we want of all our students – both athletes and non-athletes?

If you are a student athlete considering what type of college to attend, think carefully about what you want for yourself. You may just conclude that a healthy balance of academics and athletics is right for you.

Gary A. Olson, Ph.D., is president of Daemen College in Amherst.