ATLANTA – Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association has decided less is more.
Saturday, near the end of the association’s annual convention, the members of Division II approved a sweeping package of legislation that significantly shortens the athletic seasons for many sports  either by reducing the number of games that can be played or the time frame teams have for preseason scrimmages and practices. In addition, there is now a “dead period” from Dec. 20-26 during which teams cannot play or practice.The effort to shorten the division’s playing seasons was strongly supported by its Presidents Council, which decided after a recent study that Division II athletes were spending “too much time on athletics pursuits .” Many division members expressed concern that “season creep” was forcing athletes to squeeze an increasing number of games into a limited time period, pulling them away from class and other campus activities.
“I’ve met with a lot of our students, and they were very clear with me about the pressures they feel from coaches to do a lot of things that draw away from their opportunities to do other things and participate in other activities on campus,” said Stephen Jordan, chair of the Division II Presidents Council and president of Metropolitan State College of Denver. “I think what we’re doing is reflective of what the Knight Commission [on Intercollegiate Athletics]  has said for very long time: If there is going to be meaningful reform in intercollegiate athletics, it has to be led by presidents.”
Though the four measures that trimmed season lengths were convincingly approved by the division’s membership, a number of delegates lambasted the relevant proposals on the floor of the convention.
“It’s really about political good looks and competitive equity,” Kelly Higgins, athletics director at Fort Lewis College, said of the legislation. “I see this strictly as implementing specific mandated game and season reductions that actually discriminate by region, sport and geography.… We already have the ability to choose these options not to play. We already have the options to choose to enhance student-athlete welfare on our own campuses and in our own conferences.”
Line in the Sand
The most spirited debate of the convention for Division I delegates came Friday, and it concerned a rather unlikely topic: sand volleyball.
Last year, Division I designated sand volleyball as an “emerging sport,” meaning that the NCAA could officially sponsor the sport and host a championship one day if enough member institutions field teams. In the past year, however, 63 Division I institutions came together in an effort to override the decision . Arguing that the addition of sand volleyball would drain resources from traditional indoor volleyball, these institutions forced the entire Division I membership to reconsider the fate of the sport Friday.The referendum on sand volleyball so captured the attention of those at the convention that someone – without permission – slid pamphlets outlining reasons to save the sport under the hotel room doors of delegates the night before the vote. Many longtime convention attendees noted that they could not recall such a massive campaign for a single piece of legislation.
“Sand volleyball is a popular sport,” said Marilyn McNeil, athletics director at Monmouth University, prior to the vote. “Women are playing the sport. Why would we ever sit here and deny them the opportunity? Let it grow or let it fail, but let it have an opportunity.”
Nearly as many delegates, however, spoke in favor of the measure to cut sand volleyball as spoke to oppose it. Those in favor of cutting the sport argued that it would not bring any new athletes to their institutions and opined about its cost.
“I personally wonder whether we’re going to add any real new opportunities for young women when we add the sport of sand volleyball,” said Joel Maturi, director of athletics at the University of Minnesota, in an attempt to sway the vote. “I strongly believe that we’re going to be counting the same athletes two times. It’s hard for me to fathom that somebody who’s a talented young woman participating in sand volleyball could not very much stand in as a court volleyball player. Then we don’t talk about the fact that we don’t have to add it if we don't want to add it.… The reality of it is, if it’s added by our competition, we believe we’ll be forced to add it because we’re going to recruit the elite student-athlete who’s going to anticipate playing both sports.”
Ultimately, 58 percent of the delegates voted in favor of removing sand volleyball from the list of emerging sports, and 42 percent opposed. The measure, however, needed 62.5 percent -- a five-eighths majority -- to pass, so sand volleyball will remain an emerging sport.
Though it typically receives the least attention from outside observers, Division III is the largest competitive level in the NCAA, with more than 450 member institutions. Friday, in an effort to bridge institutional differences among its diverse membership and further define how it is perceived by the outside world, Division III unveiled a new “strategic positioning platform .”
To many, Division III’s defining attribute is its ban on athletics scholarships. Division leaders, however, told officials from its member institutions at a Friday meeting that the division should be known for much more.
For instance, the new platform highlights that “the division has a higher number and wider variety of athletic opportunities on average than any other division in the NCAA.” It also notes that “the division minimizes the conflicts between athletics and academics through shorter playing and practice seasons, the number of contests, no red-shirting or out-of-season organized activities, and a focus on regional in-season and conference play.”
The new platform is Division III’s attempt at rebranding itself to catch the eyes of those who might only know about Division I athletics. Division II undertook a similar initiative last year .
“We represent over 450 schools from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” said Paul Trible, chair of the Division III Presidents Council and president of Christopher Newport University, in Virginia. “In many ways, there are great nuances, but overwhelmingly we share the same values. But what we want to do is harness the power of that and speak with one voice.”