Why Washington University should consider starting a Division I basketball program

| Staff Columnist

College athletics, particularly basketball and football, were my main source of entertainment during the duller moments of winter break. While I enjoyed and appreciated the great skills of the players and coaches, I never had an avid interest in who won each game. In one instance, I watched an Illinois-versus-Northwestern basketball game with friends from both universities. I sat there not knowing who to root for as each of my friends cheered on their respective teams. This was a little bit saddening and turned frustrating as the games drew on. In my frustration I began asking myself the question: Why is Wash. U. not involved in the excitement that is Division I athletics?

(Becky Zhao | Student Life)

(Becky Zhao | Student Life)

When it comes to whether Wash. U. should establish a Division I program, there are two questions: Why, and how? I will address the “Why?” question first. While I do not aim to offend our Division III student athletes, there is simply no comparison between Division I and Division III athletics. One needs only to watch an episode of SportsCenter and attend a Wash. U. football game to know that. All the glamour, glory and, yes, money is in Division I athletics. There are many benefits of a Division I program, benefits in areas that I would argue Wash. U. is sadly lacking. These benefits include increased school spirit, increased alumni involvement and better national name recognition, among others. There can be no argument that certain schools are nationally well known because of their successful athletic programs. Recent examples that come to mind include Davidson College and Appalachian State, universities few would know of if not for their recent athletic successes. Increased name recognition positively impacts universities, particularly when attracting applicants and donations. By watching, and especially attending, other universities’ athletic events, I know firsthand how much school spirit and pride a successful sports team can generate. This spirit would linger even in alumni’s hearts and minds. For these reasons and others, there can be little doubt of the serious upside of having a competitive athletic program.

Detractors from Division I sports programs might argue that Division I programs come at the expense of academic excellence. The argument goes that sports programs require admitting unqualified students and are bound to drag down a school’s academic reputation. I would refer any such detractors to the examples of Stanford and Duke, two prestigious private research institutions that share many characteristics with Wash. U. in addition to supporting perennially successful sports programs. In addition to those who say sports come at the expense of academics, others will point to the ugly aspects of Division I athletics, including the recruiting scandals and other unethical behavior that plague certain Division I sports programs. But one advantage Wash. U. would have as a newcomer to Division I athletics is the ability to take precautions against scandals from day one, preventing the systemic ethical breakdowns that have plagued other NCAA Division I schools.

Now to the question of “How?” While starting a Division I program is a lofty proposition, there is an established first step that Wash. U. could take toward such a goal. That step would be to start men’s and women’s Division I basketball programs. Why basketball? The answer is simple: with only about 10 scholarships and some salary money set aside for good coaches, a school can literally buy itself a quality Division I basketball program. This would allow Wash. U. to begin accruing quite a few of the benefits of a Division I program described earlier, at minimal cost. By taking this step, Wash. U. would, in a sense, get its feet wet and provide incentive to invest in a top-division athletics program.

While I recognize that this proposal may seem difficult, it is far from unattainable. Division I athletics at Wash. U. will not happen before I graduate and may never happen at all, but I hope to at least plant a seed in students’ minds. The more this vision is discussed, debated and tossed about, the more likely it is to come to fruition. So when you are enjoying Division I athletics in the future, keep asking the question: Why not us?

  • Patrick Seaworth

    while it is true that other universities have gained recognition, in pursuing d-1 status, what the university needs to do, is to continue what has made the university the place that all of us fell in love with as high school students.

    in that same spirit if the school wishes to have a d-1 program as it should, academic excellence does not forsake the: personal excellence, leadership, and team building that comes along with team sports (see fraternities and other academically definitionally disconnected activities on campus).

    that being done would require the school to take either the entirety of the uaa conference into d-1 status with us, or together with the university of chicago the two schools could petition the ivy league athletic conference to open its doors to two additional programs.

    thus the two additions would create an athletic conference of ten competing schools, maintaining the balance currently present in the sporting league.

    there is no doubt as to the school’s academic programs, those programs however are assisted by the normality of student athletes, no different in classes than student group activists, nor more publicly recognizable with the exception of small sided sports.

    ensuring that balance stays on campus means pursing those sporting opportunities that are in line with the school’s academic traditions, and thus why the true option for going d-1 is through that program that is typically not amongst the most salient of d-1 programs.


  • WashU Athlete

    You all complain about our sports teams while never showing up. You make claims that we aren’t D-I athletes, and yes while some aren’t, many turn down walk-on offers and even potential scholarships to division 1 or 1aa schools. I, unlike random washu students who don’t know much about or care much about sports unless their friends from home start bragging about their state school games, have experienced the college recruiting and varsity athletic process and can tell you that we have very competitive teams. For example our football team played 3 teams that made it to the division III playoffs, one which almost beat the national champion, and another which plays one of the oldest rivalries in the nation, on ESPN every year. If you went to most other divison III schools you would see they support their teams a thousand times more than at washu. Sometimes when I pass by tours outside of the AC the guide will fail to mention the fact that our basketball teams have won BACK TO BACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS or that our girls volleyball team has won a national championship or that our girls soccer team has won a national championship. None of you care about sports, be honest. If you want a fun extracurricular athletic environment you have to get drunk and show up to games like normal college students. Division I games aren’t fun because they are DI, they are fun because everyone is really drunk and supporting their team. Schools like Wittenberg in Ohio sell out every single home football game, over 6000 people, and this a team WashU has played and beaten. I’m not complaining about our lack of fans either, I play because I love the game, I don’t care if you show up or not, but I am sick of hearing people bitch about useless things like moving up to DI. Go to a game before you do that. All anyone does at this school is bitch and moan and refuse to act. Unlike DI players we actually have to go to class and work our asses off on the field or in the gym AND in class. We do it and don’t complain about a thing, even a lack of student body support.

    Also, it is insulting when student athletes hear these comments. We work hard at what we do and we don’t think we should be chastised by kids who don’t know anything about sports, aka washu students. If you don’t want to come to games fine, but if you complain about our teams do it to our faces and not in some bitchy article or on some stupid forum so we can set you straight before you sound like an idiot to the entire school.

    • Jonathan

      wow, wash u athlete, u are a moron

  • no

    The change to D1 (or the existence of D1) helps MOST schools have a boost in name-recognition if they otherwise have no reason to have name-recognition. These schools are ones that are known more for their athletic programs than their academic programs; the existence of the D1 sports is THE reason why people know about a school. Otherwise, the school would just be another regional university in that area, with little or no pull to attract students without the teams.

    The marginal boost that Wash U might have as a result of a D1 franchise is no where near the costs and expenses of putting together the D1 teams (specific costs have been outlined by other commentors).

    There are very few schools who have reknown because of basketball and academics — right now, only Duke comes to mind. And, I gaurantee that a large number of people who have heard of Duke only know of it because of basketball and NOT because they have amazing academic programs.

    Wash U is already a very highly-ranked school and has a good reputation. We should we care if more average-joes-on-the-street know about us? Do we want to be a school known because of sports? The tens of millions of dollars required (and lower standrads required of the admissions office in accepting kids) to become a D1 team is not worth the marginal (if any) increase we’d experience in name recognition.

  • jeff

    Perhaps the author should try attending one of the mens or womens basketball games this year to see the school spirit we currently have instead of drawing conclusions without a full perspective. I have seen myself more energy, and sometimes even more people, at Wash U games than at some D-I schools where I grew up, such as Hofstra, Binghamton, Stony Brook, Northeastern, Drexel, etc, even St. Johns.

  • ed

    p.s. most students would rather see Wash U play D1 teams, compete, and usually lose (often handily), then watch them have success in D3. there will always be that magical win and maybe even the magical season. currently, there is no promise of such a thing, and therefore no reason to attend.

  • ed

    this would be the single best way to boost the university’s name recognition, and worth every single penny. far and away more valuable than any series of Debates that happen to occur on our soil. our administration may be a bit too MIT / ivory tower to get it though… wash u does not need additional academic recognition but rather layperson recognition and a relevance in the daily conversation. sports is a great way to do that. the current way in which we rally around D3 sports while shunning D1 as uniformly compromised seems contrived and disingenuine.

  • studlife hater

    This is studlife — no one really expects well-authored articles, do they?

  • ecb

    Please do your research. Looking at the NCAA website, it doesnt seem like Division I basketball is even an option. They arent accepting reclassifications at this point and if a school wanted to be multi-divisional, its at the exclusion of football and basketball.



    Im not saying keep Wash U out of Division I, Im saying be realistic. And do your homework before you publish.

  • PointSpecial

    I’m sorry, but you know not of what you speak.

    There are many D-I schools out there who would love to have the same support that you see at certain places like Hope or Calvin, or even Wash U. And if you want more support at Wash U, then you need to organize… how do you think that student organizations like the Dew Crew at Hope or the Orange Crush at Illinois got started…? They were started by a group of students, got sponsorship, and created something bigger than individual fans cheering at a game.

    You want name recognition… but do you only want to be known because of a single run into the post season (Davidson) or a single upset (Appalacian State) or would you rather be known as one of the top athletic programs in one of the top research institutions in the country (as Wash U is currently known)?

    Wash U has embraced (and should) the fact that they are offering the purest form of athletics and tip-top academics. What good is it if the athletes are paid to play… but can’t win? Getting toasted by 35 and being able to see that night in and night out on the ESPN bottom line really isn’t that sweet.

    Read this: http://www.gvsulakers.com/links/qatimselgo.html

    It’s from Grand Valley State University, a D-II school in Michigan and it discusses their decision to stay at D-II instead of “moving up” to D-I. Wash U and other D-III schools should embrace their identity AS D-III schools.

    If you want more atmosphere at games, then make something happen. Do you think that the fans at Duke decided one day to just start waving their hands around? No, it’s organized. And it can be done on a D-III campus too.

  • Extremely Skeptical

    Clearly the writer did about half the research necessary for the article. In addition to the arguments mentioned above, Duke and Stanford have campuses at least 4 times bigger than Wash U. If it were so easy to “buy” a team like the writer claims, why wouldnt more schools do it? Schools that rely on the success of their basketball team like Kentucky who made a forgettable appearence in the NIT Tournament last year would just buy a quality team every year.Don’t get me wrong it would have been awesome to go to a division one school, in fact I applied to schools specifically because I thought it would have been cool to go to a division one school and yes Stanford and Duke do have competitive sports programs but whose to say our program will turn out like theirs and not more like Binghamton’s? A Serbian import beating a fellow student into a coma, drug charges and a lot of negative press later I am not sure Binghamton would do it all over again for a shot at the tourney where they got bounced in the first round. Are we really willing to risk the reputation of our school for the chance to watch a nationally televised basketball game and have a team to root for? Plus “WUSTL” doesnt really fit very nicely into a box score. It would be really cool though if Wash U could be a competitive D 1 school.

  • thinks you should do research

    Pretty sure we had one once…

    Do you really advocate the spending that would be necessary for this kind of program?

    Don’t forget the cost of building a new stadium….

  • Dave

    D1 programs are losing a tremendous amount of money as it is. Many programs are cutting sports to save money. I doubt WU would want to make its sports more expensive just to cut half of them. Nice try

  • a reasonable individual

    Why not us?
    1. That would be really expensive. This would definitely require a lot of fee increases, including instituting student ticket prices. Put tickets at $1 and see how badly attendance falls
    2. Current team. While they are very good at D3, very few of them would be walk on candidates at any D1 program. Wallis could probably do it but it would be very difficult. We surely lack the size to play with lower level D1 teams night in and night out.
    3. Scheduling. D1 teams play several times a week and all over the region if not nationally. It is impossible to have this basketball schedule without lots of (expensive) tutors and it would limit the type of academics our athletes could choose. No basketball player could be a BME or any type of major that requires participation. Ultimately, it would require student-athletes to be athletes first and WashU, and frankly the vast majority of athletes, do not want to see it happen.

  • Kevin

    Without being granted a waiver by the NCAA, Washington University would have to move all of their sports to NCAA Division I status not just men’s and women’s basketball. There are D-I Basketball institutions that play D-I FCS football without giving scholarships and they generally participate in the Pioneer League and include institutions like Dayton, Butler and Davidson. There are exceptions but they are few in number. The NCAA would expect, as a part of the application process, to see a time-line for the movement of all sports to NCAA D-I level.

    • alum

      Hear hear to the author excellent ideas. For all the haters, allow me to rebut some points.
      To begin, those who say NCAA wouldn’t even allow it due to some posted rules on their webpage… well let me give you a reality check. That process is nothing like the college or job apps which you seemingly are basing your assumptions on. Its not like submitting an app without an essay or some other “mandatory” requirement.

      Wash U is a very powerful and wealthy institution with lots of influential connections across the country, they do not have to play by the same rules 19 year old college students do. If Wash U really wanted to acquire D 1 Basketball, I guarantee that provision would not be much of a barrier and that some kind of deal could be worked out.

      Next, the cost of 20 scholarships(mens plus womens) is just not that much. Indeed seeing as Wash U has extra capacity(this would be just 5 new scholarships per class) it would tax their resources little to nothing to add 5 new students per year. The largest cost would be the coaching staff, and that would run perhaps a few million annually, not bad at all.

      Compare this small cost, lets say $10 million annually(conservative assuming no new stadium construction. Will probably need a few million for some renovations as well), with the recognition it would bring. I guarantee doing this would bring way publicity and name recognition the uni’s way than a comparable advertising budget, especially if we had a team that did well.

      And to those who say we would only be known for basketball, well I suppose you never actually watch d-1 games that feature good schools. The announcers LOVE to mention and talk about how the good the school is when you see a Duke or Stanford playing, and how impressive it is for the student atheletes to succeed there yada yada yada. Comparing a D-1 Wash U to a school that is only known for its athletics is idiotic, you must compare it to peer institutions, Duke, Standford, Vandy, or perhaps closest of all, Northwestern. Even Northwestern’s usually pos athletics bring in a lot of positive attention.