Johns Hopkins enjoys the prominence of a seven-time NCAA Division I champion lacrosse program and the comfort of a Division III athletic program that is immune to many of the ills of the NCAA's highest echelon. It is a rare dichotomy that has suited the school well for 30 years, but it could be coming to an end.
The Division III Presidents Council approved a reform package on Thursday that might force Hopkins to choose one division once and for all. One proposal would eliminate an exception that allows Hopkins and seven other Division III schools to offer athletic scholarships to athletes playing on their Division I teams.
The rules changes are expected to be put to a vote of the Division III members in January. In all but the handful of cases at issue, Division III does not allow the awarding of athletic scholarships.
If the scholarship ban were to pass, Hopkins would consider moving fully to Division I to retain its athletic scholarships, athletic department officials said.
"This is legislation based on the want to eliminate multi-divisional programs without saying it," said Hopkins associate athletic director Josh MacArthur.
Hopkins fields 24 Division III teams in sports as varied as football and field hockey, wrestling and women's basketball. A move to Division I would require a major institutional and financial commitment and likely entail upgrading facilities and shedding teams.
School officials would prefer to keep the bulk of its teams in Division III while continuing to offer 12.6 men's lacrosse scholarships and 12 women's lacrosse scholarships. This spring, the Hopkins men's team advanced to the NCAA championship game, where it lost to Virginia. The women went 11-5 in their fifth season in Division I.
Hopkins president William R. Brody said the university is committed "to compete at the highest level in lacrosse" regardless of the outcome of the Division III reform effort, though he would not speculate on what the university would do if it lost its current scholarship exception.
In a letter to the NCAA dated July 3, Brody wrote that any proposal that forced Hopkins to choose between divisions would mean "either abandoning its deep-rooted and beloved lacrosse traditions or turning away from its fundamental commitment to broad athletic participation."
The reform package on the table, most of which Hopkins supports, is intended to rein in Division III athletics and prevent the poor academic track records and unethical recruiting practices more prevalent in Division I athletics.
Hopkins officials said even with athletic scholarships, its Division I lacrosse adheres to the values of Division III, which emphasizes well-rounded "scholar-athletes."
Brody said that in a discussion about the ills of Division I, the topic "wouldn't be lacrosse and it wouldn't be Hopkins."
"It is not broken," he said. "What are we trying to fix here?"
The reform package was approved by the Presidents Council on Thursday. It establishes an auditing procedure to compare need-based financial aid awarded to athletes and non-athletes, ends redshirting (allowing players to withdraw their varsity eligibility for one year so they may retain that eligibility to use later in their college career) and reduces the length of seasons and the number of games.
None of the changes would have as big an impact on Hopkins as the elimination of athletic scholarships, the only proposal that failed to win unanimous approval from the 15-member council.
Hopkins and other schools affected - including several that play Division I ice hockey such as Colorado College - will work to amend the scholarship ban or defeat it when it comes before the Division III membership for a vote in January at the NCAA convention in Nashville, Tenn. If passed by a majority of those present, representing the 424 Division III schools and their conferences, the ban would take effect in August 2008.
"If there is a single distinguishing characteristic of Division III as a division, it is that we do not give athletic scholarships," said John M. McCardell, Jr., president of Middlebury College and chair of the Presidents Council. "What we are saying is that if you wish to remain a member of Division III, then within four years, you need to bring your practices into full compliance with Division III philosophy or join Division I, where athletic scholarships are permitted."
For McCardell, the scholarship question is one of philosophy.
"From Middlebury's standpoint, our concern has more to do with whether we mean what we say about the central feature of Division III membership," McCardell said. "The burden of proof rests with those who think an exception needs to be made."
The elimination of athletic scholarships at multi-divisional schools is perhaps the most contentious of the reform package, which was devised over the past year through a survey, focus groups and ample discussion.
In a phone interview Tuesday, McCardell pointed to the non- scholarship Ivy League as a model of success for competing at the Division I level with athletic-based aid, but Hopkins officials said Blue Jays lacrosse could not maintain its current level of performance without scholarships. Ivy League institutions, they said, have more resources to devote to the financial aid of all students.
"Princeton has an endowment that allows them to offer financial aid to anyone that needs it," said MacArthur, the associate AD who is a veteran of two Ivy League athletic departments.
Hopkins AD Tom Calder was on vacation this week and could not be reached.
Jody Martin of US Lacrosse said he was slightly more optimistic about Hopkins succeeding without scholarships, noting that recruits value the school's academic prowess and lacrosse tradition.
As for a move to Division III, Martin said he "can't imagine Hopkins allowing a Division III lacrosse program on their campus."
"That would be earth-shattering," said Martin, a graduate of Division III Denison University of Granville, Ohio.
Hopkins men's lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala said the school has no interest in bringing his sport to Division III and would move Hopkins to Division I if that were needed to continue offering scholarships.
William Smith College AD Susan Bassett, who chaired the committee that made the reform recommendations, said some schools believe the visibility and revenue that come with a Division I sport convey an overall athletic advantage to multi-division schools. Proponents of the scholarship exception dismiss that notion.
"Some people think there is an advantage to be gained by Hopkins having Division I programs," said Steve Ulrich, executive director of the Division III Centennial Conference, of which Hopkins is one of two multi-divisional members in the 11-school league.
"Considering our conference members are the ones that compete with Hopkins for NCAA bids and in championship events, we don't see it."
Ulrich said the conference stands united behind Hopkins and will work to defeat the proposal in January. He said Hopkins and like-minded schools will try to educate athletic administrators on the issue. They could also try to amend the proposal to include another grandfather clause. Hopkins issued a statement to that effect yesterday.
"A lot of these schools would be making a decision on something that does not impact them at all, which is kind of a little bit of a concern of ours right now," said Hopkins women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker. "What will be important for schools that are in this boat, like a Hopkins, is to educate the [Division III] membership.
"There needs to be some very well-thought arguments to change something that has already been grandfathered in and accepted."
When the NCAA split into divisions in 1973, it allowed schools like Johns Hopkins to obtain multi-divisional status. In 1983, Division III banned athletic scholarships but granted an exception to Hopkins men's lacrosse and other Division I teams at multi-divisional schools. Two years later, Division III allowed exempted schools to offer scholarships in the corresponding women's sport. Since 1983, schools wanting to elevate a sport to Division I in any other circumstance must forgo athletic scholarships. The following Division III members field teams in Division I:
Institution Division I sport Athletic scholarships
Johns Hopkins Men's lacrosse Yes
......................... ...Women's lacrosse Yes
Hobart ............. Men's lacrosse No
Clarkson ......... Men's ice hockey Yes
...... ........... ......... Women's ice hockey Yes
Rensselaer Tech Men's ice hockey Yes
St. Lawrence Men's ice hockey Yes
............... ...... Women's ice hockey Yes
Union .......... ..Men's ice hockey No
.............. ..... ...Women's ice hockey No
Colorado College Men's ice hockey Yes
....................... ......Women's soccer Yes
Hartwick College Men's soccer Yes
................. .........Women's water polo Yes
SUNY-Oneonta Men's soccer Yes
Rutgers-Newark Men's volleyball Yes
Franklin & Marshall Men's wrestling No