Consider NCAA D-III for love of sport

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

For many, the concept of intercollegiate athletics exclusively conjures images of NCAA D-I March Madness and big-time universities like Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame playing football in massive stadiums before 100,000 on fall Saturday afternoons — and tens of millions more on TV and online.

These most elite athletes are enrolled in higher education on full-ride scholarships based upon their athletic prowess.

Behind the glamorous facade of these Division I programs are thousands of student-athletes playing the sports they love in relative obscurity at 443 colleges and universities affiliated with NCAA Division III.

But, they’re able to continue playing the sports they love!

The philosophy at Division III schools expressly states the goal of “placing the highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs.” Indeed, D-III schools endeavor to present an environment in which the pursuit of athletics is part of the student-athlete’s total educational experience — not the singular experience.

Let’s look closer at Division III, which is the largest of the NCAA divisions in both number of participants and schools.

D-III offers the student-athlete more flexibility, with its primary focus of academics, than the other two divisions, both of which can offer athletic scholarships along with the expectations inherent in presenting them.

The NCAA states that Division III “minimizes the conflicts between athletics and academics and helps students progress toward graduation through shorter practice and playing seasons and regional competition that reduces time away from academic studies.”

Also, D-III student athletes are encouraged to become integrated throughout the campus as members of clubs and organizations, study abroad participants and in taking advantage of opportunities — outside of athletics — for personal and leadership development.

At Wilmington College, it’s not unusual for student-athletes to be involved in everything from theatre and music to student government, Washington, D.C. Lobby Weekend trips, Greek Life and International Club.

Nationwide, about seven percent of high school athletes go on to play intercollegiate sports in college — at any level. The vast majority of them do not receive full-ride athletic scholarships with hopes of ultimately turning professional.

While D-III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, most affiliated colleges offer financial aid to prospective student-athletes in the form of merit-based scholarships based upon excellence in academics or leadership.

Maybe your family qualifies for need-based financial aid. In this case, the college can make a scholarship offer that relies heavily on grants that — unlike student loans — your family is not required to pay back.

Even though this isn’t an athletic scholarship, it can still be a very attractive offer for many families. Indeed, the combination of merit-based scholarships and need-based financial aid can be an appealing option for the high school athlete who desires to continue playing the sport he or she loves, while also attaining an academics-focused education.

Wilmington College is a member of NCAA Division III.

The “Fightin’ Quakers compete in 18 men’s and women’s sports as a member of the Ohio Athletic Conference. WC also fields an intercollegiate equestrian team along with offering cheerleading, water polo and an athletic band. In addition, numerous intramural sports are offered throughout the year.

WC has a tradition in athletics that dates back well over a century to the early 1900s.

Maybe you will be wearing a green and white uniform in the near future!

Dennis Kelly is senior vice president/chief enrollment officer at Wilmington College. A nationally known enrollment administrator, he has consulted and presented extensively on higher education and post-graduation career choices.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist