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Division II and Division III strengths and challenges

This is an excerpt from Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics-2nd Edition by Robert Zullo & Erianne Weight.

The LEARFIELD Directors’ Cup is awarded annually by NACDA to the athletics program that has the greatest overall competitive success. The winner of the inaugural Directors’ Cup, in 1993, was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Stanford University subsequently won the cup every year until the University of Texas broke the streak in the 2020-2021 season.

Directors’ Cup rankings were initiated in 1995 for NCAA Division II, Division III, and the NAIA. These divisions did not score performances in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Michigan’s Grand Valley State University, a Division II public university with 24,000 students, has finished first or second every year since the 2001-2002 season. NCAA Division III has been dominated by Williams College, a private liberal arts college with approximately 2,000 students in Massachusetts. Williams won the Division III Directors’ Cup every year except 1998-1999 until the 2021-2022 season, when it finished sixth, with fellow New England Small Collegiate Athletic Conference (NESCAC) opponent Tufts University, another Massachusetts school, taking the top spot for the first time.

What makes Grand Valley State and Williams different? Grand Valley State offers a large number of opportunities for student-athletes, with 779 participants receiving US$4.5 million in financial aid. Its nearest competitor in the standings, West Texas A&M, which finished second, has 484 student-athletes and distributed US$2.6 million in financial aid. Grand Valley State prudently invests in its athletics program and manages to net a small profit annually. As Division III institutions do not offer athletics scholarships, Williams College’s advantage appears to be the emphasis on athletics participation within the student body, with 60 percent of students competing on a varsity, junior varsity, or club sport team. Williams also sponsors one of the broadest-based programs in Division III, offering 32 varsity teams for their 750 student-athletes. The investment in athletics at Division III is strategic for many schools, as research shows that small private colleges strategically use their reputation and brand strength to manage or increase enrollment.

Questions to Consider

  1. Analyze a Division II school and conference in your region. What are their greatest strengths and what are their greatest challenges? Then do the same for a Division III school and conference.
  2. What are the pros and cons of being a student-athlete at the Division II level? At the Division III level?
  3. What are the pros and cons of being a coach at the Division II level? At the Division III level?
  4. What are the pros and cons of being an administrator at the Division II level? At the Division III level?
More Excerpts From Administration of Intercollegiate Athletics 2nd Edition