D3 athletics came into the spotlight recently when Jack Taylor scored a record 138 points for Grinnell College. While the game was more of an effort to get him the record, it put D3 in the national spotlight.
In all my years as a sports anchor, I covered all levels of college sports, but if there was one level I didn’t cover as much, it was D3. Then my oldest son became a D3 athlete at a university near Chicago and the next thing you know I was getting a close view of what that level is all about. I have found D3 athletic programs to possess many positive qualities such as being a place for an athlete who loves their sport and wants to keep playing in college, yet not be overwhelmed by athletics.
The other night my 11th grade daughter was swimming for her high school team in a meet. I was doing the public address announcing and sitting next to an official whose daughter was looking at various colleges. Though her times were good enough for a low level D1, the Dad said she was leaning more towards D3. Her reason was that she loved swimming and wanted to keep doing it in college, but she didn’t want it to own her time.
People sometimes make D1 out to be so consuming that it is like shoveling coal in a factory from 5 am to 11 pm. It is a lot more of an athletic commitment, and the pressure is far greater, but I know and covered many D1 athletes that loved the challenging demands. However, it is true, for some, that it is harder to have the college student experience at the D1 level.
As I have said before, it comes down to thorough evaluation and discussions as to what is the right athletic and academic fit for YOUR child. The mistake many families make is that they only know D1. That’s all they see on TV or SportsCenter. 90% of families I have talked to have never been to a NAIA game. I went to two last week. 90% of families have never been to a D3 or D2 event. I have had people tell me they think small college teams are made up strictly of kids that only played JV in high school.
The reality is that, according to one NAIA coach, 90% of the athletes in his area could not get on the court for his program. I went to a small college game the other night and the speed and intensity was jarring. The competitiveness was fierce. Almost every kid on the court had been first team All Conference in high school at least one year.
My observations of my son being a D3 athlete has been that it has been a very positive experience for him. He told me the reason he is making A’s and B’s into his sophomore year in college is that he is a D3 athlete. He says it has helped his time management greatly and it keeps him focused. I bet that if he were not an athlete there, his grades would be worse. His coach constantly tracks his academics and at that level they truly put academics above athletics.
Last year I went to about 15 D3 athletic events and struck up conversations with parents of other D3 athletes. Some had track/cross country kids that could have run at D1 schools but they wanted their child to have the degree from a school with the reputation of D3 University of Chicago, which is one of the 10 highest rated schools in the U.S. Now, if your child is one of the top 100 or 200 high school athletes in the country, I would absolutely look hard at a highly rated D1 school like a Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia and so on, but otherwise look closely at these other schools, like D3 Washington University in St. Louis, Tufts, Emory. Check out NCSA’s Power Rankings of the top schools in each Division level to learn more.
When I speak on recruiting for NCSA Athletic Recruiting, I find the topic that families know the least about is the different levels of college sports. As a sports anchor across America from 1983 to 2005, I covered somewhere in the range of over 2000 D1 games and practices, 500 D2 games and practices, 300 NAIA, 300 junior college, and now I am seeing D3 up close and personal.
While many say, “Well, I heard they don’t give athletic money at D3,” I am hear to tell you they do have significant scholarships, grants and needs-based money there. A lot of it will depend on how hard your athlete works academically, on SAT/ACT prep, and community work too. That’s why they say recruiting starts in the 9th grade whether you are varsity at that level or not. You can put yourself in position to earn significant scholarships at D3 or any other level by being well rounded in high school.
In many cases, D3 athletes can be among the most competitive in sports. While they often don’t have the physical size or quickness of the D1 athlete, in many cases their fundamentals are better. There are basketball players at the D3 level that can shoot the lights out of it. The thing is, they may be 5′ 10″ guards rather than being a 6′ 3″ D1 guard.
So, continue to look hard at all levels. Don’t make assumptions or buy into what some other parent says that is not accurate. Utilize the resources of NCSA Athletic Recruiting to research these schools. Get evaluated. Study rosters of D3 schools. You will find offensive linemen at D3 Wisconsin football teams that are 6′ 7″ and 320 pounds and that can play. There is plenty of good competition, especially at the high level of D3. This year’s winner of the D3 men’s cross country championship finished the 8K course (5 miles) in 24 minutes and 26 seconds.
Explore all levels and find the right fit for your child. You may find that D3 could be just the place for them. If you would like to get evaluated by a college scout and find out what level your child qualifies for, call NCSA Athletic Recruiting today at 866-495-7727 or go to www.ncsasports.org today!
Charlie Adams is a longtime motivational speaker. He was a sports anchor at television stations across America, where he developed a passion for studying the recruiting process. His oldest son is a NCAA athlete.