Recent rules changes affecting Division III athletics

There are 420 schools that make up Division III athletics. Some have a few hundred students while others have a student body approaching 20,000. Some are private and some public. They all have different institutional missions and different philosophies when it comes to athletics.

Yet every January, representatives from this diverse array of schools meet and vote on changes to Division III. Many changes have been made over the last few years. Some of these issues have had an effect on the College and the Division III experience that varsity athletes can enjoy here.

The most notable rules change took effect in January 2004, when Division III representatives voted to eliminate red shirting. Red shirting, which gets the most attention in Division I, allows athletes to practice with a team but not use up a year of eligibility if they don’t play in any games. In other words, a player who practices with a team but never sees any game action can continue to play in his or her fifth year of college.

Under NCAA rules, each college athlete is allowed four years of eligibility to play intercollegiate sports. The rationale of removing the red shirt is that more athletes can graduate in four years instead of returning for a fifth year to play another sports season.

Shawn Mecchi, senior goalkeeper for the College’s men’s soccer team, believes that the new red shirting rule reflects an important change in Division III philosophy that separates it from Division I and II programs.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It makes Division III look like we’re not all about spending the money necessary to compete. Instead the image is back on ‘academics first.'”

On the other hand, Kevin McHugh, executive director for Student Development and Campus Programs at the College, disagrees with the elimination of the red shirt.

“Why would you say you’ve used a year (of eligibility) when you haven’t even competed?” he said.

However, he said that it is usually not an issue at the College. “Athletes are not coming here to be pros,” he said. “Coaches just want them to come out with a degree and leadership skills.”

McHugh, who was recently selected to serve as a member of the NCAA Division III Management Council, said he believes that some schools are hiding their true intentions when it comes to changing the athletics program.

“Seventy-five percent of Division III is private,” he said. “It’s less likely that someone would stay a fifth year than at a public school.”

Another recent change shortened the length of teams’ off-season schedules. Mecchi, who plays in some scrimmages in the spring with the men’s soccer team, said that the NCAA has been continually shortening the length of these “seasons.”

“We practice three times a week and play a couple of scrimmages or meaningless tournaments,” he said. “But the length we’re allowed to do that keeps getting smaller as well as the limits on how many competitions we’re allowed to play.”

McHugh said that while these changes may appear to shift the focus further toward academics, that may not necessarily be the rationale of many committee members.

For example, a few years ago there was an argument in the winter meetings over whether football teams should be able to use a football when having off-season workouts in the spring. It was finally decided that teams can use a football, but they cannot practice with full-contact scrimmages.

The reason for quarreling over a seemingly simple issue, McHugh said, was that some schools have coaches that coach more than one sport. If teams were allowed to participate in game situations, the teams that would lose their coach to another sport would be at a disadvantage.

“They are hiding behind the ‘student-athlete’ issue, but it comes down to competitiveness,” he said.

Whether this is the main factor or not, the College’s athletics staff and players will be looking closely for future changes in Division III.