In January, Athletic Director Mark Wagner and Vice President of Student Development Bettie Ann Brigham joined around 4,000 other college representatives at an annual conference for the NCAA, where new legislation is discussed and voted on.
However, instead of the usual rule changes that occur each year, the majority of the conference focused on the possible creation of a fourth division in the near future.
“All discussion, both in and out of meetings and dinners, was discussion about the fourth division,” Brigham said.
Currently collegiate athletics are divided into three separate divisions, with larger universities in Div. I and smaller colleges comprising Div. III. However, DIII is the largest with 420 schools, making it hard for the division to please all of its members. According to Wagner, it is projected that at least 30 or 40 more schools will be added in the next decade. “It’s time to get a new division to accommodate the growth,” he said.
The proposed idea is that DIII would be split into two different divisions. However, according to Wagner, it will be tricky to say where the lines will be drawn for the split because there are three different groups of people.
“Philosophical issues come into play,” he said. “What is the role of athletics in a university?”
Wagner believes that many of the current DIII institutions agree with the division’s present structure, but some would like to see athletics have either a bigger or smaller role on the college campus.
“Every institution will have the ability to choose for themselves,” Wagner said, explaining how schools would be divided.
Both Wagner and Brigham agree that, depending on how loose some of the legislations are, Eastern would probably side more with a division focused on the traditional season like current DIII athletics.
“Eastern wants our students to be athletes and academics,” Brigham said. “We would be interested in more restrictions on seasons. If someone wants to be a two-sport athlete, we want them to be able to do that.”
There is still no definite decision on the creation of a fourth division, but the discussion and debate will become even bigger as the current NCAA-CBS television contract expires in the next couple of years. According to Brigham, NCAA advertisers want everything to be tied up before they start negotiating their next massive contract and are pushing for a decision.
“[This] would be the first time in decades that something like this happens,” Wagner said. “It’s a big if, so it would take a couple years to happen, if it does.”