Narrowing The Gap: A Case For Considering Division III

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We hear it in the vocabulary of many high school athletes: "I want to go DI."

But why?

The common perception is that Division I athletics reign supreme in terms of overall competition and skill. For the most part, these perceptions are correct. However, for many student-athletes, it suddenly becomes a reality that DI might be out of their reach or that the intensity of a DI program is not what they actually want from an athletics standpoint.

Eventually these students have to prioritize: Do they choose to go DI at a smaller school not as prestigious in the academic realm, or do they choose to swim somewhere where education is valued at a premium?  The second choice has become more and more popular over the past few years, especially in swimming. As a swimmer who was offered a small scholarship to a mid-range DI program and a potential walk-on spot at an Ivy League school, I ended up going Division III because it made the most sense academically and financially.

Many of my peers are making the same decision as me -- DI-caliber swimmers choosing to swim DIII instead for educational and other personal reasons. With all of this talent coming into DIII, conference meets and NCAA championships have become substantially faster.

Below are a few major differences in winning times at the NCAA DIII Championships over the last 10 years.

Men 2007 2017
50 Free 20.25 19.55
200 Free 1:38.03 1:36.42
200 IM 1:50.84 1:44.18
200 Back 1:48.00 1:44.00
400 IM 3:57.41 3:47.31
500 Free 4:25.62 4:18.35
1650 Free 15:24.81 14:59.56

Women 2007 2017
50 Free 23.15 22.69
200 Free 1:49.79 1:46.82
200 IM 2:03.13 2:00.97
200 Back 1:59.15 1:55.83
400 IM 4:22.75 4:15.71
500 Free 4:56.56 4:50.76
1650 Free 17:00.08 16:27.82

This past March was an especially groundbreaking year for Division III. A staggering ​15 NCAA records were broken over the course of the 2017 meet. To put that into perspective, there are 40 events total in the meet, including diving. That means a record was broken in over 1/3 of the events in just this year alone.
Swimming as a whole has certainly gotten faster in the past decade, but DIII has outpaced DI and DII. This is especially prevalent on the men's side. For instance, in 2007, the difference between the winning time in DI and DIII in the 200 IM was 9.12 seconds. In 2017, it was only 3.68 seconds. In the 500 freestyle, the difference was 15.82 seconds in 2007, compared to 2017 when the difference shrunk to just 9.93 seconds. For the first time in history, fast swimmers have the opportunity to compete with elite talent in the Division III setting.

To those considering which division is right for you, please note that there is talent and competition in all three divisions. Pick the school that makes the most sense holistically and will set you up for a career later in life. According to Al Jazeera, less than 2 percent of NCAA student-athletes turn professional in their respective sports. For the vast majority of graduating student-athletes, professional sports are not a reality. But do not let that detract you -- the benefits of being a college student-athlete far outweigh the times on the scoreboard when it comes to personal growth and life skills development.


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