Even as major changes to the collegiate athletics landscape are discussed at the NCAA Division I level, Wartburg College and Iowa Conference administrators believe there will always be a place for non-scholarship college athletics in the U.S.
The NCAA’s Division III is one of the few, and certainly the largest, groups in the U.S. to offer intercollegiate athletics on a non-scholarship basis.
That is, student-athletes cannot be rewarded with athletic scholarships to participate at these 444 institutions.
Just over 3 percent of the NCAA’s budget is committed to funding Division III and its national championships.
Talk of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) at the Division I level splitting and, therefore, jeopardizing the NCAA’s largest source of revenue – the men’s basketball tournament’s T.V. contract – threatens Division III’s resources.
Yet Iowa Conference commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen believes that no matter what happens, U.S. culture will foster non-scholarship collegiate athletics.
“Just because of the emphasis on sports in our country,” Yrigoyen said. “Because these kids have been playing sports since they were 4 or 5 years old, it becomes part of their fabric, so they are looking for places for that outlet. Even if it means they have to spend a little money to go to schools with the quality of ours, they probably will. I don’t see that changing.”
Non-scholarship athletics enhance academic experience
Wartburg senior Eddie Diemer played basketball for the Knights for four years.
He says he learned valuable leadership skills during his four years on the team that went along with his academic experience. For him, not worrying about the pressures of performing at a scholarship level or that an injury would threaten financial aid was key.
“Being a Division III athlete, really you’re playing just because you enjoy the sport and it’s something you’re passionate about,” Diemer said.
Wartburg Athletic Director Rick Willis is passionate about the benefits of non-scholarship collegiate athletics.
He says it’s important that they stick around, even it’s not under the NCAA umbrella.
“The way that that enhances the overall education and the overall experience of a student, I think, is certainly important and highly valued,” Willis said. “We need to fight for there to continue to be opportunities like we offer.”
Educating families is crucial
Part of that, too, Yrigoyen said, is marketing.
At the NAIA level, smaller schools can offer partial scholarships for athletics. While it’s nice for parents and kids to boast this as an accomplishment, Yrigoyen warns it’s not a significant amount of money.
Division III, he said, should be an option for these families, especially if other financial aid, such as academic scholarships, is available.
“Unfortunately, there are two sides to it, because the emphasis on sports in our country make parents think that what they should be doing with their kids is grooming them to be a scholarship athlete,” Yrigoyen said. “Really, what they should be doing, is grooming them to be a college athlete.”