For schools of Asbury’s size, it can be difficult to know where exactly to fit in in terms of athletics. For 78 years, the National Association of International Athletics (NAIA) has acted as a governing body for “small athletics programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.” In all, the NAIA represents over 60,000 student-athletes from across the United States.
While the NCAA may traditionally be known for governing over large schools in their Division I program, the NCAA’s Division III (DIII) is the association’s largest. Over 170,000 student-athletes at 444 different institutions are under the DIII umbrella.
In Kentucky, five schools are already part of DIII: Transylvania University, Thomas More College, Spalding University, Centre College and Berea College. Berea, which was formerly a member of the NAIA and in the same conference as Asbury, was just accepted into DIII in the past year. They will undergo a five-year probationary process before being granted full membership.
If Asbury ever made the decision to join DIII, they would be put through the same probation process. During those five years, Asbury would be banned from playing in any NCAA DIII tournaments at the national or conference level until they completed all the required steps. The biggest change that would need to happen during those five years is the transition away from athletic scholarships. Student-athletes in DIII cannot be granted athletic scholarships; all scholarships are either academic or for leadership.
Athletics director Mark Perdue framed the decision as a balancing act between the two associations – from the size difference between the NAIA and DIII alone, a move to the NCAA would provide a much bigger pool of talent to play against. Perdue also believed that the NCAA’s branding could change the type of athletes that Asbury attracted.
“The NCAA tends to be a better brand… but not necessarily [better],” he said. “But that’s a lot of people’s perception.”
He also cited concern over DIII’s scheduling, noting that the season for DIII schools is typically shorter and that teams play less games.
While there isn’t any plan for a move away from the NAIA in the pipeline for Asbury, Perdue admitted he has done some thinking. “You always have to be prepared,” he said, “[if the administration were interested] we’d have to do the studies to see if it’s a viable move.”
And if the time ever comes that Asbury decides to move to the NCAA? Perdue had a positive attitude for the work Asbury could do. “There are probably more Christian liberal arts schools in the NAIA than the NCAA DIII,” he said. “Maybe it’s a different field of missions to be…among a lot of secular, non-Christian schools.”
Article and photo originally published in The Asbury Collegian