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Perspective: by Jerry Pyle
Competing With Division II
It was a pretty good week for Cobber sports. Seven of Concordia's student-athletes received Academic All-MIAC honors for their athletic and academic achievements in the fall sports. The hockey team won two games in an important series with St. Mary's. And the Lady Cobber basketball team continued to roll.
In fact, women's basketball throughout the MIAC continued to show exceptional strength. The St. Thomas women beat Division II Mankato State in basketball. MIAC women's basketball is now 2-0 against the Division II North Central Conference. Concordia's Lady Cobbers beat NDSU 71-65 two weeks ago.
Something is going on here. The MIAC is obviously playing a pretty good brand of basketball. But why should they be able to compete with Division II? And win?
A couple years ago the former head women's basketball coach at the University of Minnesota was quoted when chastising one of her players in practice with the following line. "This isn't Division III. We have to think here." This, from a coach who built a long record at the U of M that was just short of miserable. She is now, presumably, working somewhere where a clear grasp on reality is less essential. (Her replacement, we note, is considerably more gracious.)
Middle-of-the-pack Big Ten women's basketball is a lot closer to that of the Division III MIAC than it is to the level of, say, Iowa. And that is a credit to MIAC women's basketball. Despite not being able to offer any athletic scholarships there is apparently a fair amount of thinking going on in the MIAC.
Games between Division III schools and those that offer scholarships are often David and Goliath stories. On one side is the Division II school with their twelve-or- so full rides, bigger budgets, and the prestige that goes with being quasi-big-time. On the other is the Division III team with no scholarships, poorer facilities, part-time coaches, and, many assume, players that the Division I or II schools didn't want.
The Division III schools often try to recruit the same players to whom area Division II schools are offering full scholarships. When the Division III schools are private colleges, like those in the MIAC, the cost differential facing the prospective student-athlete can be staggering.
So, how can the cream of the MIAC be on a par with the cream of the area Division II schools in women's basketball, especially when the gap between the two groups of schools in football and men's basketball seems to be considerably wider? (I know what you're thinking. "Is he really dumb enough to touch this subject?" The answer is, "Of course.")
The football question is easy. It takes too many players to make a good football team. And to beat a Division II opponent you would have to have better players at at least ten or fifteen positions. In basketball you only need better or equal athletic talent at three or four spots, maybe as few as two. It's a whole lot easier to attract two or three scholarship-type athletes to an MIAC school than it is to lure the fifteen or more it would take to play even-up in football.
But what, then, can be made of the apparent talent disparity between the MIAC and Division II in men's basketball when there seems to be less disparity in the women's game? Here's a clue: the maturity of women. Women coming out of high school have a whole lot clearer, and broader, grasp of what they want out of life than boys of comparable age. As a result, a basketball career is more often just one of many factors being weighed by a woman choosing a college. Quality of education, career options, campus environment, and friendships tend to be more important for most woman than most men at age 18. That makes women more open to what the MIAC schools cite in recruiting as their advantages. And quality women student-athletes are clearly responding to that message throughout the MIAC recruiting area.
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