For the past year, I have been the head men's and women's tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta and have discovered something. Typically, when a junior tennis player thinks of Division III, they think of strong academics and not-so-strong tennis. The former is definitely true. If you look at the top 75 national universities and the top 75 liberal arts colleges according US News and World Report, nearly half of them compete in NCAA Division III tennis. When choosing Division III, players will have the opportunity to get a great education, but can also play top-notch tennis. A great part about Division III is the variety among programs. If a player wishes to train three or four hours a day, the opportunity is there to do so. If a player needs to miss practice for an academic conflict, that is also acceptable. Division III typically does not mirror the rigid practice schedules of Division I, and there is a lot more flexibility when it comes to athletics.
People in the tennis community who look down upon Division III tennis as some sort of extension of high school tennis or see it as nothing more than a club team are wrong. Let me cite some research I did and information I also share with parents and players that I recruit. There was a recent national sampling taken of 133 male players who were three, four and five star recruits who went on to play Division III tennis from the high school classes of 2006, 2007 and 2008. From these 133 players in the sampling, 94 consistently started for their team, 80 have played in NCAA tournaments and only 17 have transferred schools or quit the team after their first year.
Here are some more eye-opening statistics. In looking at a national sampling of 242 four and five star male players in the classes of 2006 and 2007 who went on to Division I institution, only 134 consistently started for their team and 68 transferred or quit (that is 28 percent). That is a pretty alarming statistic that nearly one in three either quit or transferred.
When choosing a college tennis program you should try to be as informed as possible and go in knowing what you are looking for. Personally, I believe that you send a child to college to get a well-rounded education. Unless your goal is to become a professional player or a tennis coach, why would you choose a school that emphasizes tennis over academics? I want to paraphrase an NCAA campaign that was seen on ESPN back in 2007:
"Essentially almost all of us are going pro in something other than sports" which exemplifies this point quite well. Division III can give you the opportunity to concentrate on your schoolwork, while still playing a high level of tennis. You will be prepared for the real world, whether it be at a larger research university or a small liberal arts college. There are often financial aid packages that can take the place of an athletic scholarship that you would receive in Division I. The point I want to stress; the emphasis will be placed on student, before athlete, and you will come out of college as a more disciplined and well-rounded person than when you started.
Many at the Division III tennis level will have the opportunity to become exemplary scholar-athletes. These players can strive for competitive excellence and academic achievement. They will learn to embrace a commitment to community and develop a dedication to sportsmanship and learn to represent themselves with dignity and class well beyond the classroom and long after they graduate.
I am not anti-Division I tennis, just know what you are getting into. Many Division I programs promote the qualities I just described, but there will be a disproportionate time spent on tennis. Of course there are many young men and women who are successful competing on that level and do wonderful things in their lives. However, please do your research and know that being a Division III tennis player is something you can be proud and the chances of being successful in life are certainly increased by getting a well-rounded education of which tennis has a significant and rightful place.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail email@example.com.