Starting this fall, all Missouri Western’s sports teams will spend a little less time on the court or the field due to the NCAA’s “Life in the Balance” initiative that passed this past January.
Western’s volleyball, soccer, and football teams, who usually arrive on campus two to two and a half weeks early for their preseasons, won’t arrive this year until a week later than usual. In addition, volleyball will play 26 as opposed to 28 games and soccer will play 18 as opposed to 20.
This winter, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will have a “dead period” from December 20 to December 26 in which they cannot practice or play. The basketball teams will also play only 26 as opposed to 27 games.
Next spring, Western’s baseball team will see the biggest schedule adjustments. The baseball team will go from 56 to 50 contests. Both golf teams will go from 24 competition dates to 21. The softball team’s maximum number of games will stay at 56.
According to athletic director Dave Williams, Division II has been struggling to find its identity for quite some time.
“Division II members are still trying to figure out what our identity is,” Williams said. “Everyone knows what Division I is – Division I is what you see on TV. It’s the big time sports – it’s athletes that just happen to go to school. Everyone knows what Division III is – it’s playing for the love of the game, it’s non-scholarship, it’s the true student athletes who are there for academic purposes but just happen to play sports. But what’s division II?”
Williams believes that Division II falls somewhere in between.
“We’ve always talked about balance,” Williams said. “We’re the division that still plays at an incredibly high level of athletics but we are also students. We’re the balance in between.”
The NCAA has studied the workload of athletes in Division I, II and III sports for a long period of time and found that the difference between Division I and II athletes is fairly minimal. According to Williams, this is one of the main reasons that the legislation was passed. However, Williams believes there may have been a better way to go about shortening seasons than cutting contests.
“I’m still skeptical,” Williams said. “I think that there are ways in DII to have true balance without taking away the one thing that student athletes always what to do, and that’s compete.”
The thing that is truly taking up athletes’ time isn’t competing, according to Williams.
“What’s taking up all their time? I think the answer is the off season workouts,” Williams said. “No matter if you play 26 games or 28 games, you’re still going to practice 20 hours a week. Your season is what it is. If you’re not playing that day, you’re probably practicing. I don’t think we’ve done much with that except save some money.”
According to what is written in the “Life in Balance” legislation, budget reduction was not a main reason in passing these initiatives. However, not having to bring in athletes early and reducing a few games here and there will save Western money in a time of budget cuts across the board.
“From our standpoint, any time a student athlete is on campus we have to feed and house them,” Williams said. “Luckily our housing doesn’t cost us a lot, but feeding them is expensive.”
Assistant athletic director Patsy Smith mentioned that these reductions benefit everyone, not just the athletes.
“When they’re talking about ‘life in the balance,’ it’s not strictly a student initiative, it’s also for coaches and administrators and athletic trainers and everybody else, so we can give everybody a break,” Smith said. “In athletics, we work around the clock and these initiatives are giving us a little time off.”