By Michael Battista
Early November is both an exciting and challenging time when it comes to fall collegiate sports. The season begins to wind down, conference playoffs determine who will play for the championship and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) begins to make the brackets of its national tournaments.
Two New Jersey programs earned the right to play in their respective NCAA tournament. The College’s Lions played in their 25th straight tournament after receiving an at-large bid thanks to their national ranking and record before being eliminated in the second round. Meanwhile, Rutgers University’s Scarlet Knights clinched their first-ever second seed tournament spot and are competing in the elite eight of their bracket.
However, one thing separates the two programs, and while both may be skilled and deserving of credit, only one of them will receive attention from this turn of events. Rutgers, which is a Division I (DI) program, play against the most skilled and competitive schools in the nation. The College, on the other hand, plays in Division III (DIII), a cheaper alternative to DI that does not supply student athletes with any athletic scholarships.
But why is it that when talking about powerhouse teams in the NCAA, many never mention any other division besides DI?
Programs, such as the ones in place at the College and Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., — who is hosting the NCAA DIII women’s soccer tournament this year — are both top talents in their relatively smaller competitive groups. The New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), in which the College plays, has many other competitive and talented teams, such as Montclair State University and current NJAC champion, Rowan University. But it also includes many teams with few wins in their programs, with team stats and records being relatively low.
The same goes for Williams College, which plays in the New England Small College Athletic Association. Teams there have won six conference championships and have been to 11 finals, overall, while four teams have never even made the final.
The College’s women’s soccer assistant coach Katie Lindacher, who played women’s soccer all four years while she was a student at the College, thinks the chance to play in the NCAA every year is a good thing.
“I believe there are many benefits of playing for a DIII school over a DI school, but one mainly being that I got the opportunity to compete for a national championship every year, while still having the time to balance school, friends and family,” Lindacher said. “I could have gone DI just to say I went DI and won nothing but a couple of games.”
You can be a big fish in a small pond, or you can be a regular sized fish in a large ocean filled with other fish.
However, Lindacher also mentions that while the pond may be smaller in DIII, the quality of the sport does not decrease.
“The quality of soccer and competitiveness does not tremendously drop from DI to DIII, so I still got to play at a high level while keeping a balance in my academia and social life,” Lindacher said. “People do not understand Division III sports and tend to put them down as if they are not as good as other divisions when, in fact, we (the Lions) have defeated DI and DII teams. DIII is misunderstood and actually plays for the love of the game rather than scholarship money.”
Lindacher mentions how academics and social lives can be evenly balanced in DIII, and that is something that really sets DIII institutes apart.
According to scholarshipstats.com, in 2013, the total value amount of athletic scholarships given out in DI schools reached two billion dollars, with the average scholarship for women athletes being $14,660.
Since DIII schools don’t pay student-athletes scholarships, their funds can be used to improve other facets of college life, including academic and social parts. The College was just recently named a national exemplar by the Council of Undergraduate research (CUR), which according to a Signal article from Wednesday, Nov. 4, was awarded “highlighting campus efforts and resources devoted to such studies.”
Lindacher believes titles such as this, in addition to athletic accomplishments, make institutes like the College more appealing than other schools that just highlight one or the other.
“As highly academic as TCNJ is, we are also known for great soccer, too,” she said. “As an athlete, when making my college decision, I had to think about both academics and soccer. TCNJ had both high quality education and soccer, so it was an easy choice.”
She also explains how the struggles of being a student-athlete are not dulled by being in a lower division.
“Being a student-athlete at TCNJ is not easy, but with time management, there was never an issue with assignments and soccer,” Lindacher said. “If I had to miss class for a game, I knew it was my responsibility to complete any work that I missed. There was never a time I thought soccer wasn’t as important as my grades because I came here to put forth my whole effort into both. The division has nothing to do with school over soccer or vice versa. I could have gone DI or DII, but I chose TCNJ because of it’s balance of high academics and quality soccer.”
While the divisions may differ, the quality of the sport still lies on the player. Considering the fact that the College’s women’s soccer team has made it the tournament two decades in a row, that should show just how qualified the program is.
There are schools in different divisions that are better than the College, and some that are not. The College may be looked over in some aspects to places like Rutgers or other big DI schools, but on its own in women’s soccer, it does stand out among the rest.
“TCNJ is a legacy just simply based on facts,” Lindacher said. “(We) have won three national titles and have been to the Final Four 12 times. Coach (Joe) Russo (placed) fourth for most wins in all divisions of college soccer. So, I believe, in the soccer world, we are a powerhouse. In our division, we are a stand out team and one of the biggest games on everyone’s schedules. We can certainly play with other divisions, regardless of us being Division III.”