Change is good. When it makes things better, that is. Many such changes are occurring constantly at UTD in an effort to make it a better university.
The graduate school that was established in 1969 has since expanded to admit undergraduates, first upper classmen and then freshman and sophomores. The result? Better opportunities. The mall around which our campus centers underwent construction to provide nicer paths and even a bit of green amidst the massive concrete. The result? A better atmosphere.
A few months ago, when I was in the gym I heard talk of transforming our Division III athletic program into a powerhouse Division I program. The desired result? Better athletics.
As a Comet varsity volleyball player as well as a dedicated student, when I first heard that idea I let out a little chuckle. The idea that jumping divisions would improve our school?s athletics seemed positively preposterous. As a Division III school, we play against teams that, like us, emphasize academics over athletics. Scholarships are given to high scorers on the SAT rather than high scorers on the playing court.
If we were to become a Division I university, we would compete against teams with players attending school thanks to their height, strength, and speed. As long as an athlete meets the minimum standards for the school, he or she can be paid to play for that Division I school.
How could a school that pays for scholars and focuses on research possibly compete against schools that are buying their athletes?
That?s when apprehension came over me. If UTD became a Division I university, some of what makes our athletic program so wonderful would fade away. In order to compete with the other schools, UTD would have to offer scholarships for athletic talent rather than just academic aptitude. That?s an invitation for applications that are less than spectacular to flow into the admissions office. Seven-foot tall athletes that can bench higher than they can count would suddenly be interested in UT Dallas because they would be eligible for a full scholarship. And the school would probably be interested in them as well, despite unimpressive grades or SAT scores.
With several talented scholarship athletes and a lot of luck, UTD could develop an athletic program that draws attention. However, such a reward would come at a great cost. I?m not just talking about the money spent on recruiting trips, equipment, and the scholarships themselves. The real cost of jumping divisions would be the transformation of UTD?s athletic program. Right now, the desire to receive a top-notch education motivates athletes to attend UTD. The girls on my team all have goals that extend far beyond the volleyball court. We have aspirations to change the world. To be future teachers. Future doctors.
Yet during season we play early every morning, waking up before any sane person should, so we can practice before class. We play weekends, driving eight long hours so we can play one match against Mississippi College. We play despite pain, gritting our teeth through twisted ankles, tendonitis, and overworked shoulders. We play because we want to play. Our love for the game drives us each and every day.
On the first day of volleyball tryouts, Coach read us a short essay about what it means to be a Division III athlete.
The introduction summed up our dedication quite eloquently: ?It?s not about getting a scholarship, getting drafted, or making SportsCenter. It?s a deep need in us that comes from the heart.?
If UTD goes Division I, I fear we will lose the sentiment that accompanies being a Division III athlete.
No longer will they be students before athletes. No longer will their passion for the game be their main reason for playing?they will also be playing to keep their scholarship.
When UTD?s strategic plan was recently posted on the website, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I read ?UTD does not plan to develop a Division I athletics program in the next five years.? Seeing as I only have three more years of eligibility, such any change after five years would not directly affect me. My volleyball career as a Division III athlete is safe.
But the issue concerning switching divisions after five years still remains, especially since the strategic plan left the door for such a change wide open. I hope that when the topic arises again, people do not mistake a bigger program for a better program.
Last season on the morning of every home game, I would be in the classroom building taking a calculus quiz. A few hours later I would be standing on the court in an orange jersey, singing along to the national anthem.
These Tuesdays truly captured the Division III attitude: a scholar first and foremost, but still an athlete at heart. It can?t get any better than that.