When people think about college athletics, big-money Big Ten football games may come first to mind. At our 17 private colleges and universities, athletics are a bit different. At NCAA Division II and Division III institutions, the student in student-athletics comes first.
Concordia University, St. Paul is the only private Division II institution in the state of Minnesota and it prides itself on supporting their student-athletes on and off the field. Division II is similar to Division I in the sense that they can award athletic scholarships but they also have many differences.
“At the Division II level we aren’t offering full scholarships to student-athletes,” said Jacob Munkwitz, assistant football coach at Concordia. “We can pair an athletic scholarship with merit-based scholarships and state and federal aid. It’s a good way to think about the division. Athletics is one part that makes up a student-athlete.”
The opportunity to get a private, liberal arts education while playing a sport at a high level is unique. And the educational experience the student-athlete is getting isn’t any different than what other students receive. “We expect our student-athletes to take charge of their education. We certainly help our student-athletes access the resources they need but we don’t offer special tutors or classes or dorms,” Munkwitz said. “At Concordia we ask a lot of our student-athletes and with that they are receiving a great education with a great athletic experience.”
The rest of our member institutions are in Division III, where there are no athletic scholarships and the out-of-season practices are limited — and the education of the student remains first. Division III sports compete through two different conferences, Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) and the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC).
There’s a focus on keeping students’ lives in balance in Division III institutions like Gustavus Adolphus College, said Kari Eckheart, Gustavus’ assistant athletic director and senior woman administrator. “Our student-athletes are students and athletes but they are also involved all over campus — in clubs, music, organizations,” Echheart said. “Many of our student-athletes take time off of their sport and study abroad or have internships or are two sport athletes.”
Students with connections to staff and faculty are more likely to succeed and athletics is one more way to make these connections. “Often we hear that student-athletes do better when they’re in season; they are better at managing their time,” Eckheart said. “Also, that connection with a coach can make a big difference in the student-athletes’ academic lives.”
“Athletics provide another opportunity for students to learn important skills,” she said. “Leadership, time management and teamwork are just a few of the skills we feel students gain from a small private college athletic experience.”
Club and Intramurals
Although varsity athletics are an integral part of the private college experience, there is also a wide range of club sports offered. Club sports aren’t a division of the NCAA but rather another way for students to compete against different colleges and are overseen by the national governing bodies of each sport.
Take Carleton College’s women’s club ultimate team (or ultimate for short), Syzygy. They play in the top league in the country, competing against much larger public universities, and are considered one of the best teams in the nation.
Club sports can teach student-athletes life skills explained Maya Powell, Syzygy’s junior captain. “Ultimate has really taught me a lot about life,” Powell said. “In Ultimate, we have the ‘Spirit of the Game’ instead of referees. This means that each player must hold themselves and their team accountable to the rules — lying and cheating only hurts the team.”
Although Syzygy isn’t a varsity sport, the team is very organized and competitive. They travel all over the country playing other Ultimate teams and are offered similar experiences to their Division II and Division III counter parts.
A wide range of intramural sports are also offered, providing opportunities for students on the same campus to compete.
Check out all the athletic opportunities on our college’s campuses under the “Athletics” portion of our College Finder.