Two years running: the College reflects on its transition to Division II play

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How the switch to NCAA II athletics has impacted recruitment, budgets and student life on the Hill

In July of 2009, William Jewell College (WJC) began the four-year transition from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II. The move was made by the institution because it was no longer able to identify with the other schools in the NAIA, and therefore felt it was time to graduate to a new organization, the NCAA. Now after three years of complete eligibility, Jewell has learned the ropes of being an NCAA Division II school, both in academics and athletics.

“The basic reason was not purely an athletic decision. It wasn’t the athletic department deciding what was best for athletics; it was the institution deciding what was best for the institution,” Darlene Bailey, Athletic Director, said. “It also was about image and positioning of the institution that we feel are more like us, affiliating with a national organization that we felt strongly about and also [a change that we] felt was sustainable for us in the long term.”

The four-year transition period included two years of remaining in the NAIA in the Heart of America Athletic Conference (HAAC). Jewell was therefore eligible for the postseason even though schools are typically forced out of their conference when they decide to transition. In 2011, Jewell joined their current NCAA DIvision II conference, the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). The GLVC sought out Jewell to join the conference, which was a good fit for the College due to the number of institutions in the conference similar to Jewell. The College was able to participate in postseason play in Aug. 2012.

“The GLVC has a number of private institutions that we feel fit being associated with, schools that are like us in terms of mission, academic rigor and program offerings. We felt the GLVC fit that in terms of the sports that they sponsored, location and private institutions [in the conference],” Dr. Bailey said.

Since the addition of the NCAA branding, Jewell athletics have had more success landing recruits than in the NAIA. The department believes the College is more attractive to potential student athletes because of the affiliation.

“Kids will not close the door on us because we’re NAIA,” men’s basketball head coach Larry Holley said. “We’ve also been able to get international students. They weren’t going to go NAIA, they were going to go NCAA Division 1 or 2. If we were NAIA, I don’t know that we would have gotten any of the international guys.”

Women’s basketball head coach Jill Cress spoke similarly to Coach Holley in regards to Jewell’s ability to recruit local students.

“Even around here with recruits you’d have to explain what NAIA was. The NCAA has helped distinguish us,” Cress said.

Joining the NCAA Division II and the GLVC have also come with some costs. The  GLVC is much larger geographically than the HAAC. Therefore, teams are having to take longer trips and are incurring higher costs for food and lodging due to an increased number of overnight trips.

“I don’t think we had one overnight trip in all the years I was at Jewell before moving to the NCAA. The expense of [overnight trips] in our operating budget is much more expensive because we’re paying for things like hotels, buses and meals,” Coach Holley said. “Now when we go to Drury [University] on Thursday, we stay overnight, travel to Rolla, and play Missouri S&T on Saturday. We have the added expense of two nights lodging and three days on a big bus.”

Academically, Jewell has been able to distinguish itself by receiving awards that are specific to NCAA Division II schools. One of the most notable is the Presidents’ Award for Academic Excellence for achieving four year academic success rates (ASR) of 90 percent or more. William Jewell College has maintained 99 percent ASR for the past three years, placing in the top 20 of all NCAA colleges.

“The [Presidents’ Award for Academic Excellence] measures the students that come to your institution, whether they graduate from your institution or not, that they graduate from somewhere. [Receiving this award] to me is a reflection that our coaches are recruiting students that fit William Jewell. This means that our student athletes are academically talented as well as athletically, and they want to be successful in college.”

 

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