The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has granted Berea College provisional membership in Division III, beginning September 1. This move will allow the college to better align its athletics program to compete with other institutions that share a similar philosophy of intercollegiate athletics. The NCAA Division III philosophy is founded on the student-athlete’s overall educational experience. Institutions within the division are not permitted to award financial aid on the basis of a student’s athletic ability.
Berea College moved from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) after being a member of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) since its founding in 1926.
“Because we value the tradition of our participation in the KIAC for more than 80 years, we very carefully and thoughtfully investigated this opportunity,” says Berea College President Lyle Roelofs. “Our conclusion is that this move is the logical step for Berea College because our approach to intercollegiate athletics is consistent with NCAA Division III expectations that academics are the primary focus for student athletes. Moreover, all of our academic benchmark institutions are already NCAA members.”
According to the NCAA, Division III participation reduces the tension between athletics and academics, supporting the academic progress of student-athletes through shorter practice and playing seasons. Participants are integrated on campus and treated like all other members of the student body, keeping them focused on being a student first. It is also expected that travel distances and times will be shortened, thus reducing time away from academic studies.
There are more than 170,000 student-athletes at 444 institutions in Division III, which is the largest of the three NCAA divisions. Berea College joins Centre College, Spalding University, Thomas More College and Transylvania University as Kentucky’s NCAA Division III members, all being former members of the KIAC. Berea is not yet affiliated with a Division III conference but is exploring several options for joining a conference after the first year of provisional membership.
“In many ways, this is a new era for Berea College athletics,” says Mark Cartmill, athletics director, “but, it’s also a return to what we believe is most important in intercollegiate athletics—campus pride, a tradition of success and a commitment to academics, first and foremost. Berea has a long and storied history in athletics and we look forward to forging new friendships and renewing some old ones with NCAA Division III schools.”
The NCAA Division III Management Council met in April and approved Berea’s application. The NCAA Division III membership process typically takes four years to complete. Throughout the transitional process, athletics staff members will continue to work with representatives in various campus departments, like admissions, financial aid and the registrar’s office, to establish new compliance systems and provide rules education on NCAA legislation.
Berea fields teams in 16 intercollegiate sports, as well as a cheerleading squad. Men’s varsity sports include: baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, soccer and tennis. Women’s varsity sports include: basketball, cross country, indoor track & field, outdoor track & field, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball.
Berea’s place in Kentucky athletics history is well established with 36 All-Americans and 69 Academic All-Americans, but the legacy of Berea’s athletics extends far beyond the record books. On February 6, 1954, Berea College center Irvin Shanks played for the men’s basketball team as Berea hosted one of Kentucky’s first racially integrated college basketball games.