Bears: go Division I
I couldn’t help but feel jealous when watching the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game on Monday. Thousands of Syracuse and Kansas fans filled the Superdome with orange and blue. Meanwhile, we are stuck here at WU, and the only competition people seem to care about comes once a year with the publication of national rankings. Maybe next year the bookstore can sell “eleventh” t-shirts!
For all the academic credentials WU possesses, barely a trace of athletic recognition exists. We seem caught up in a perpetual struggle for national recognition. The women’s basketball team wins national championships and people wonder why nobody outside a one-mile radius from Brookings knows. Nobody knows because nobody cares; and they shouldn’t care, because Division III athletics are simply not compelling. To gain a sense of school spirit, the WU administration needs to seriously improve the athletics program-and the only way to do this is to move to NCAA Division I.
WU can boast some serious athletic achievements in recent years. Being one of the largest schools in Division III, we have seen great success in the men’s and women’s basketball programs; the football and baseball programs have been winning as well. Recent attempts by student groups like Red Alert to mobilize students for Bears games have also been met with success. WU athletic programs and fans are both poised for the leap to Division I; the administration should be also.
Apathy is not the problem-relevance is. Students here crave the atmosphere surrounding competitions at state schools like the University of Illinois or Mizzou. Unfortunately, when the competition includes schools like Emory and Johns Hopkins, WU athletics seem pointless. Bears games are merely sideshows on campus because athletic competition at NCAA Division III level is simply not compelling entertainment. A move to Division I would give everyone at WU something to rally around; it would increase the quality and spirit of this institution.
Start with the turf
Collegiate sports enjoy their unique popularity in America because of the atmosphere they create on campus-and that atmosphere will never manifest itself at WU in the Athletic Complex or Francis Field. These facilities are completely antiquated and inadequate. The cement bleachers are crumbling and the 4,000-seat capacity would not be able to handle the crowds that a move to Division I would bring. The Field House seats only 3,000 people-less than a third of WU’s total enrollment and is 2,000 seats shy of average Division I men’s basketball attendance figures. High schools and colleges without any national aspirations provide their athletes and fans with better facilities than does WU. Whether by construction, acquisition, or renovation, the administration needs to make vast improvement to WU athletic facilities. Why not tear down Fontbonne and build some respectable sports venues?
The administration enjoys using our peer institutions as justification for charging us the GDP of a small African nation for a year’s tuition, so I will use a similar argument. All eight hallowed Ivy League schools compete at the Division I level (I’m using the word ‘compete’ loosely). The list goes on and on. Duke, Stanford, Rice, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt all boast nationally recognized D-I sports programs. If Harvard does it, the Harvard of the Midwest should too. The administration could also look to an institution closer to home-Northwestern. The Wildcats play in one of the toughest conferences in the nation and still managed to send their 1995 football team to the Rose Bowl. WU administrators fantasize about that kind of national recognition, but they don’t realize that building a new engineering building every year will not garner it. Nearly all of our peer institutions support athletic programs at the D-I level-we should also.
Academics and athletics can complement each other. An improved athletic program and a move to NCAA Division I would benefit the university and the community. WU could build better national name recognition and respect, and students would have something to rally behind (other than our ‘number one’ food service and the bunny statue). This year the closest thing to March Madness at WU was probably Jewzapalooza. Hopefully in the future, our Bears will appear in that field of sixty-five.
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