In defense of D-III

Tricia Brandt, Miki Carter & Brianne Monahan

This letter is in response to Andrew Gottlieb’s column “Why Washington University should consider starting a Division I basketball program” appearing in Monday’s edition of Student Life. Gottlieb’s article, though apparently well intentioned, was unfortunately fraught with many inaccuracies and misconceptions regarding the state of the athletic programs at Wash. U.

The article’s understanding of the transition from a Division III to a Division I institution is backed up by frustratingly little research—such a conversion is actually much more complicated than Gottlieb might believe. If Wash. U. did decide to support Division I athletics, the school would not be allowed to start a solitary pilot program as Gottlieb suggests. According to the official Web site of the NCAA, “Division I member institutions have to sponsor at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) with two team sports for each gender.” Suppose that Wash. U. decided to take this step and converted all of its athletic programs. Once a school takes this step to become Division I, it is placed on probation for four years, during which time the institution is barred from giving athletic scholarships and participating in postseason play. So no, a school cannot “literally buy itself a quality Division I basketball program,” as Gottlieb suggests.

Even if becoming Division I was so simple, it must be recognized that being a Division I school does not automatically bring “glamour, glory and money.” Division I, in addition to claiming such prestigious programs as Duke and Stanford, is also the affiliation of lesser-known and undoubtedly less glamorous programs like Quinnipiac University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

The article, in addition to misrepresenting the process of converting to Division I, critiques the current athletic program in a way that is offensive and inaccurate. Gottlieb suggests that “salary money [be] set aside for good coaches.” Gottlieb, or anyone else who shares this view, is obviously ignorant of the exceptionally high quality of the coaching staff at Wash. U. Several of Wash. U.’s coaches have coached at many levels of competition—including professional—and most would state that they prefer the balance of athletics and academics provided by a Division III institution.

Mr. Gottlieb also discusses the hypothetical upsides of having successful athletic programs, ignorant of the fact that Wash. U. already boasts one of the most storied and accomplished athletic programs in the country—of any division. The past few years alone have provided numerous examples of Wash. U.’s athletic prowess. The men’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams have both won national championships in the past year. Women’s soccer finished second place in the nation this year. (Speaking of volleyball and women’s soccer, did anyone else notice that just a few columns over from Gottlieb’s article, a bolded title read “Wash. U. to honor national champions and women’s soccer”?) The women’s basketball team, in addition to beating Division I Southern Illinois University Carbondale this year, was the national runner-up in 2009 and in 2007. The men’s tennis team won the national championship in 2008. Clearly, Wash. U. has experienced more success than many Division 1 schools could dream of.

The most logically flawed and confusing assertion made by the article is that somehow acquiring Division I athletics would magically transform Wash. U.’s admitted lack of school spirit. It is a lamentable fact that Mr. Gottlieb believes the Wash. U. community would rather support an inevitably struggling Division I team than show enthusiasm and support for the dominant programs that currently exist at our university.

Nobody is denying that Division III is different than Division I. At Wash. U., athletes are accepted into the University of their own accord, they take the same course load and are held to the same academic expectations as non-athletes, and they typically excel in and out of the classroom. Students who feel as Gottlieb does are free to transfer to schools with a more sports-centric focus, if that’s what they really want out of their college experience. Or, they can accept the fact that Division III does not mean third rate, and show our athletes some respect.

Brianne, Mik, and Tricia are sophomores in Arts & Sciences. They can be reached via e-mail at,
mccarter@artsci.wustl, and

  • Emily

    Thank you Brianne, Mik, and Tricia for this well thought-out defense of D-III Athletics. The division itself has been struggling with this stigma, and recently released a new identity statement to define what it means to be a D-III athlete:

    As an avid WashU fan, it’s good to see this and other responses, showing that there are students and fans who do care about WashU Athletics. I agree that if Mr. Cottlieb wishes the amount of athletic support to increase, switching to a D-I program is not the solution. Instead, a program already exists here a WashU to do exactly that: Red Alert, a program that struggles to get fans to games every day. If you wish to see more support at games, be that support: join Red Alert, attend games, and encourage others to do the same.