I Chose Division II

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Cheering for our men’s and women’s cross country teams — programs that have battled and excelled in Division II — at the 2018 National Championships.

We heard the rumors — the myths, the legends and the mere speculation. Over the past year, some worried about the future, while others denied change.

And then, it happened.

Last night, Augustana University announced its plans to move to NCAA Division I by the year 2030. Such a transition requires acceptance from both an established Division I conference and the NCAA itself, followed by a multi-year transition period.

Currently, the timeline is ambiguous, leaving many Augustana athletes — such as myself — frustrated and confused.

“It would have been nice to have all the details explained, especially because there is no plan for Augustana wrestling or football yet,” said Logan Swanson, member of the University’s football team. “It’s stressful, but I know our coaches care about us and will keep our best interests in mind and fight for us.”

Others, such as volleyball senior Courtney Place, transferred to Division II mid-collegiate career.

“As a transfer from a Division I school, I know firsthand that there is a different atmosphere and feeling [between the two divisions],” Place said. “I am afraid Augustana will lose the qualities that I and so many other athletes and students love about it.”

NCAA Division II used to brand itself with the phrase “I Chose Division II.” Such a slogan emphasized the uniqueness of the division, especially in a culture that heavily glorifies Division I sports. Too often, people assume that the best high school athletes compete in Division I; thus, if someone excels in high school sports, he/she must attend a Division I university. In reality, many athletes who receive Division I offers don’t end up competing for Division I teams.

This is the cornerstone of Division II.

Many of the athletes at my school were recruited by Division I coaches, yet, for various reasons, they chose to compete at the Division II level. Three years ago, I, too, was swept up by the allure of Division I athletics before deciding to run at Augustana University. In fact, when I was a senior in high school, Augustana was the only Division II school for which I still considered competing.

After visiting several Division I schools in the fall of 2015, I traveled north to Sioux Falls, ready to check the last college off of my list before the NLI signing period. Emotionally burned out from a long, tedious college search, one thought persisted: this one better be good.

Fortunately, Augustana exceeded “good”; the school felt so welcoming and comfortable that I decided to commit as soon as I piled into our family minivan for the three-and-a-half hour trip home. Particularly, a conversation with the coaches piqued my desire to compete at a Division II school.

In this conversation — over soup in a sit-down restaurant — the coaches explained what the NCAA boasted: “I Chose Division II.” Ultimately, they said, I’d immediately impact the scoring team and compete at a national level — promises that could only be fulfilled in Division I with superhuman improvement. Here, in Division II, I noticed my distinction as an individual, not as a number among a crowd.

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Posing with my parents at a collegiate athlete celebration in the spring of my senior year. Looking ahead, I couldn’t wait to improve and excel in a reputable Division II program.

Halfway through my third year, I have yet to compete at NCAAs. Nonetheless, Division II has provided priceless memories for my teammates and I — namely, traveling to watch our men and women battle at nationals every year.

At any moment, our Division II-status could dissipate, and with it, a defining feature of Augustana’s athletic department. Augustana University’s athletic teams consistently compete well at the Division II level; the school earned several national titles across multiple sports in the past decade. Despite, our small student body, lack of fancy facilities and upper-Midwest winters, we’ve excelled against nationwide schools — a strong source of pride for both our athletic department and the university as a whole.

Now, this identity must shift.

 

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