By Clorinda Valenti
The Rensselaer mens hockey program achieved one of the most important victories in its century-old history in January and it happened miles from an ice rink.
At the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) annual convention in Nashville on Jan. 12, Division III members voted in favor of a proposal (amendment 65-1) to a reform package that, in effect, secured the future of the Engineers hockey team, as well as Division I programs at seven other schools.
Had the reform package passed without amendment 65-1, Rensselaer and the other affected institutions would have been prohibited from offering athletic grants-in-aid to their Division I athletes in Rensselaers case, the mens hockey team.
But after a vigorous campaign in the months leading to the vote, the Division III membership voted overwhelmingly to allow Rensselaer and the seven other institutions to continue their athletic grants-in-aid programs. The victory was due primarily to the efforts of a coalition in which Rensselaer joined with Clarkson, Colorado College, Hartwick, Johns Hopkins, SUNY at Oneonta, Rutgers University-Newark, and St. Lawrence to publicize the amendment to voting delegates and to marshal the forces of alumni and fans around the country to advocate its passage.
The amendment was approved at the Nashville convention by a vote of 296 to 106 (17 abstentions), which effectively eliminated the controversial language from the overall Division III reform package. Delegates then voted 304 to 89 (18 abstentions) to approve the provision as amended.
Our mens hockey team can now continue to recruit the high-level student-athletes that Rensselaer attracts, President Shirley Ann Jackson said in a statement following the vote.
She also announced that Rensselaer would begin the process to raise the womens hockey team to Division I status as well.
In the months preceding the vote in Nashville, coalition schools focused on informing delegates about the impact of the reform on their institutions, which, like Rensselaer, had Division I teams that were part of the fabric and tradition of their institutions. For example, the group distributed to Division III presidents and athletic directors an information brochure that explained the proposed amendment and arguments for its passage, and it addressed concerns about allowing Division I programs to continue at Division III schools. Meanwhile, members of the Rensselaer community made their voices heard through e-mails, postcards, and phone calls to NCAA president Myles Brand 64, hockey fans donned Support Puckman buttons at games and around campus and they signed a 25-foot-long banner in the Houston Field House that Rensselaer representatives carried to Nashville, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer joined the 65-1 supporters at a press conference at the Field House Jan. 8. He also lobbied the presidents and athletic directors of the 47 New York NCAA Division III schools to vote in favor of 65-1, and to show their support for the five New York state institutions and their communities that would be adversely affected by the loss of their Division I programs.
At the convention, Jackson urged delegates to pass 65-1, arguing that the overall Division III reform package should not harm the eight members who, for reasons of tradition, have successfully participated in a Division I sport. The sometimes contentious floor debate capped several days of intense lobbying and strategizing by the coalition schools. But in the end, the Division III members voted in favor of the amendment by a wide margin.
This is the culmination of five months of hard work by Dr. Jackson, our entire athletics department, the administration, our alumni, and countless other supporters who stood with us and helped tell our story, says Ken Ralph, director of athletics. The NCAA membership heard us loud and clear, and affirmed our belief in Rensselaers athletics programs.
Now Rensselaer is developing a timeline to move the womens hockey team to Division I, including an application to the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). The programs continued success and the Rensselaer ice hockey tradition made the womens team the first choice for the move.
Should the Rensselaer womens team be accepted to the ECAC, it will join a league that currently features Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Union, Vermont, and Yale the same 12 schools that currently make up the ECAC Division I mens hockey league.
The Division III reform package, which, in part, curtailed and put limits on the number of team practices and games, sought to reaffirm and advance the primacy of academics on member campuses. At Rensselaer, however, student-athletes already have been meeting high standards for academic performance while meeting success in their sports. In fact, for the fall 2003 semester, 20 of the 27 members of the mens hockey team were named to the Deans List, and earned a team average GPA of 3.08 higher than the 3.01 GPA for the entire campus. The womens hockey team also had 20 of its 27 players make the Deans List. Meanwhile, student-athletes as a whole playing both Division I and Division III sports posted an average GPA of 3.06 for the fall semester.
It takes a special person to be a student-athlete at Rensselaer, says Ralph. These men and women, along with their coaches, work extremely hard to be successful on the field and with their academics. It is really gratifying to see their time and efforts pay off.
|Rensselaer Magazine: Spring 2004|
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