Division III celebrates 10-year anniversary of Identity Initiative
NCAA Vice President of Division III Dan Dutcher beams as he shuffles through the memories produced over the past decade since Division III launched the Identity Initiative.
“So much wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the Identity Initiative,” he said.
Guided by a strategic-positioning platform, Division III’s Identity Initiative was introduced in 2010 to sharpen the division’s identity and to enable schools and conferences to more effectively explain why they prefer to compete in the division. A handful of opportunities were born from the initiative to tell the story of the division, including Division III Week, the Division III purchasing website and a partnership between the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Special Olympics.
Now Division III staples, these wouldn’t have come to fruition without many conversations around the table in the mid-2000s as Division III faced a potential restructure.
“In that time period, we spent about two years talking about the division, which had experienced significant, rapid growth,” Dutcher said. “There was concern expressed amongst folks if the division had gotten too large, but I think even more significantly whether the division had lost its common commitment to its shared values. And so we undertook a two-year process that was difficult at times, but I think ultimately the division is better off for it.”
Ultimately through a one-institution, one-vote survey in 2008, the Division III membership rejected structural change, with 82% of respondents endorsing the current structure. In 2009, Division III presidents supported steps to reshape the presidents’ leadership role within Division III, renew support for the division’s philosophy statement and promote its identity.
Committed to maximizing student-athletes’ educational opportunities through athletics, academics and campus and community service, the Division III governance structure worked to create further avenues for student-athletes, schools and conferences to do just that. The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee took it upon themselves to secure an official community service partner for the division: Special Olympics.
The partnership was launched in August 2011 with the purpose of enhancing the lives of Division III student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes through a mutual learning experience, providing a platform of recognition and raising awareness of Special Olympics’ programs and services.
“The Special Olympics partnership has been a major unifying factor for national SAAC since the beginning,” said Braly Keller, chair of Division III SAAC and a former dual-sport athlete at Nebraska Wesleyan. “For me personally, some of the best memories I’ve had at the NCAA Convention came from our unified sporting events. It’s a down-to-earth experience of sharing the love of sport with people you’ve never met before. I am extremely grateful for Scott George and the entire group over at Special Olympics North America.”
The “Three D’s” — discover, develop and dedicate — were set in motion as values shared across Division III, as well through the Identity Initiative, and can be seen through a lockup logo across the division’s digital platforms and on site at championships. The Division III purchasing website also debuted through the initiative, allowing members to purchase co-branded signs and promotional items with credit available for each school and conference.
“Those were things that we did, and we continue to do, to try to emphasize the fact that institutions and members of Division III that we’re not the largest division by accident,” Dutcher said. “Schools and members are part of the division because the model works, because it’s successful and because people believe in it. We need to always remember to convey what Division III is about rather than what it’s not about.”
As the division continues to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Identity Initiative, all individuals associated with Division III will get the chance once again to recognize Division III Week. This year Division III Week is scheduled for April 5-11. The weeklong celebration began in 2012 to observe the impact of athletics on the campus and surrounding community.
“The Three D’s and Division III Week have sharpened the definition of what it means to be a Division III student-athlete,” Keller said. “Although we are the largest division in size, many people are unaware of what Division III athletics are all about. By embracing identity initiatives and celebrating during Division III Week, student-athletes, coaches, administrators and institutions have a much more tangible example of what going Division III is all about. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, NCAA Division III offers the most well-rounded collegiate experience and truly prepares student-athletes for success in life after the game.”
Every Division III school and conference is encouraged to conduct a type of outreach activity that highlights academic accomplishment, athletic experience, and/or leadership, community service and campus involvement.
“We’ve seen great activation across the division year after year in a way that really celebrates the success of the Division III model,” Dutcher said. “Again, part of the Identity Initiative is to recognize that sometimes you have to take a step back and recognize your success and celebrate that success. Sometimes we get too caught up in the day-to-day and the grind, but when you step back and recognize the success of your students and student-athletes, it really makes a difference.”