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By Jack Copeland
Division III advocates didn’t back down over the Fourth of July weekend when a D3hoops.com report about schools exploring membership in the division prompted a Twitter user to question why “anyone joins when d3 schools do not give athletic scholarships.”
NCAA Division III VP Dan Dutcher
Rather than retreat, they retweeted.
The D3hoops.com Web site (one of the family of D3sports.com sites covering baseball, basketball, football and soccer) opened up the question to more than 40,000 followers of its @d3hoops.com Twitter feed, touching off a flood of tweets – and yes, retweets – from student-athletes, coaches, administrators, alumni and fans who felt moved to comment on the Division III experience.
In Twitter’s messaging format – 140 characters or less – they pointed to opportunities ranging from the ability to pursue challenging academic fields, to having time to participate in multiple campus activities or travel abroad for study, to forming life-long friendships with not just teammates, but opponents.
A few responded to the original financial aid question, noting that nonathletics-related scholarships and grants are available to student-athletes, in the same ways that they are offered to any other student.
Writing July 1 about the initial responses, D3sports.com’s Pat Coleman noted that participants quickly steered the discussion into answering the basic question, “Why Division III?” They even rapidly agreed to a “hashtag” (a Twitter search tool for anyone wishing to follow the conversation): #whyd3.
“Why Division III?” Coleman wrote in summarizing the replies. “Because you can play your sport and still be a college student, still have a life outside of your sport. You can be in a play or write for the school newspaper, run for student government. Or take a double major.”
As it turned out, the first day’s worth of Twitter comments that Coleman wrote about was just the beginning, and the discussion has continued beyond the holiday weekend. It shows signs of continuing for some time to come, as retweeting – or repeating comments tweeted by others – spreads the conversation beyond D3hoops.com’s Twitter followers.
The discussion has been fueled in large part by sports information officers at Division III member conferences and schools, who have used institutional Twitter feeds they manage, as well as personal accounts, to not only retweet comments from the thread but urge their own campus communities to join in the conversation.
One SID, Luke Stillson of McDaniel, pointed directly to the Division III identity initiative as he joined the conversation: “ ‘Discover. Develop. Dedicate.’ really does sum up #whyd3. That’s why the NCAA made it the initiative’s tagline.”
Coaches and student-athletes also are participating, and some – notably, former Pomona-Pitzer assistant basketball coach Ray Lokar and current Washington-St. Louis basketball player Dylan Richter – responded with blog posts explaining themselves beyond Twitter’s 140-character limit.
Lokar, author of a blog titled Basketball For All Roundtable, wrote that all three of his children attended and participated in athletics at Division III schools, and recalled his own experience on a member school’s coaching staff.
“Our D3 athletes...did not play for a scholarship or dreams of pro career. They loved to compete – but also wanted to be students – and I had some tremendous mentors that allowed them to do so.”
Richter, writing in his blog titled Z List Celebrity, reacted from his perspective as a student-athlete to several specific tweets from the Twitter discussion.
“One of the cool things about Division 3 is you can make it whatever you want,” he wrote. “It comes down to the person. The NCAA has restrictions on exactly how much time and what you can do at the Division 3 level. I know some kids that practice/lift/condition 3 hours a day in the off-season. I also know some that take the off-season…off, and do things like internships or travel.”
Division III officials soon became aware of the Twitter discussion and followed it with interest and appreciation.
“Social media like Twitter and Facebook are great resources through which the Division III story can be told at the ‘grass roots’ level,” said NCAA Division III Vice President Dan Dutcher. “I am excited and grateful to see the enthusiasm of so many to do that, so effectively, through #whyd3.”
With participants now routinely inserting the #whyd3 hashtag into their comments, it has become easy to follow the discussion, merely by inserting the phrase into Twitter’s search tool.
Jack Copeland, a former NCAA staff member, currently serves as a consultant to the Division III identity initiative.