Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Berry Granted Provisional Membership in NCAA Div. III

Berry College has been approved for provisional membership in NCAA Division III by the NCAA Management Council. Berry is one of three schools nationally that will begin the provisional membership process in 2009-10. Joining Berry is another Northwest Georgia school, Covenant College.

“Both academically and athletically, NCAA Division III is a good fit for Berry,” said Dr. Steve Briggs, Berry president. “We have always placed a high priority on academic achievement and the overall quality of the educational experience for our student-athletes, and affiliation with Division III allows us to be true to these fundamental values while also growing our athletic program in new and exciting ways.”

The provisional process will likely last four years. During this time, Berry will complete the transition to a non-scholarship athletic program – as required by Division III – and make other changes necessary to bring the athletic program into full compliance with NCAA membership guidelines. When the provisional process is complete, Berry will join more than 400 colleges and universities nationwide as a full member of Division III.

For now, Berry will hold joint membership in both the NCAA and the NAIA. During the 2009-10 academic year, Berry teams will continue to compete in the NAIA’s Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC), although they will be ineligible for postseason play. Conference affiliation in Division III is under exploration and will be determined at a later date.

“Berry has a long and distinguished history of competitive excellence in the NAIA, and we are proud to continue that association as our provisional membership in the NCAA begins,” Dr. Briggs stated. “We look forward to another year of SSAC competition and are committed to continuing our friendly in-town rivalry with Shorter College even after the transition is complete.”

Berry first began exploring the possibility of a change in athletic affiliation nearly a decade ago. At that time, the decision was made to remain in the NAIA but to revisit the subject once the college had a facility in place that could support a possible change. That facility became a reality with the opening of the 131,000-square-foot Steven J. Cage Athletic and Recreation Center in January 2008.

In anticipation of the Cage Center’s completion, a 15-member campus taskforce analyzed opportunities and issues related to possible membership in the NAIA and NCAA Divisions I, II and III. The resulting report was discussed by various groups on campus, and after a year of study, the president’s cabinet recommended to the Board of Trustees that Division III would be the best long-term fit for Berry and its student-athletes. College officials made the decision to explore Division III membership during the 2008-09 academic year, after which time the NCAA Membership Committee recommended that Berry be approved for provisional membership.

The move to Division III makes it possible for Berry to enhance the visibility and diversity of athletic opportunities available on campus by adding sports such as women’s softball and men’s and women’s swimming and diving (both debuting in 2009-10) and men’s and women’s lacrosse (to be added in 2010-11). At the same time, the Division III approach to scheduling games and practices will make it easier for athletes to be fully engaged as students and involved in other aspects of campus life.

“We believe that this decision will result in an improved educational experience for our student-athletes,” Dr. Briggs explained. “This move emphasizes that varsity athletics is an integral part of our overall educational program and that student-athletes are an integral part of the student body.”

The transition is not without its challenges. Because the defining principle of Division III is that student-athletes are to be treated the same as other students, Berry – beginning with the entering class of 2009-10 – no longer offers financial aid based upon athletic ability or participation. Student-athletes are eligible for the same range of merit-based scholarships and need-based aid as other Berry students, in keeping with Berry’s commitment to make a high quality educational experience affordable to all of its students. Student-athletes also have the option of earning extra money, and gaining valuable firsthand experience, though participation in the college’s student work program.

In addition, Berry will be unable to compete for national championships during the provisional period. As an alternative, coaches are exploring unique scheduling opportunities that will allow Berry teams to compete in venues and tournaments nationally and even overseas.

“Berry has a legacy of attracting great coaches and talented student-athletes,” said Todd Brooks, the college’s longtime athletic director. “Our coaches understand the importance of this change for the college community, and they believe strongly in the spirit and values of a Berry education. They are committed to ensuring that Berry will continue to field high-quality athletic teams consisting of student-athletes who distinguish themselves in the classroom, on campus and on the athletic field."

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