Morris campus hopes to improve sports with move to Division III

Simon E. Chabel

As the losing seasons continue to pile up, administrators at the University’s Morris campus are preparing to overhaul the athletics program.

UMM Chancellor Sam Schuman announced a plan last week to leave the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate athletics conference and join the Division III Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, where he said he thinks the teams will be more successful.

While average enrollment at NSIC schools is approximately 3,275 students, Division III UMAC schools average 2,008 students, a number closer to Morris’ 1,927.

Even though Division III schools cannot give athletics scholarships, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Sandy Olson-Loy said students who currently receive these scholarships would continue to receive aid for at least two years.

Olson-Loy also said most students are positive about the decision and “see it as a way to strengthen the program, to be more competitive.”

The move to Division III will take several years to complete. Administrators are developing a detailed timeline for the change.

UMM hired a consultant to examine the athletics department, and the final report, issued in March, recommended switching to Division III.

Athletics director Mark Fohl said he believed the change would make the school’s sports teams more competitive. He said coaches were generally supportive of the decision.

Softball and women’s volleyball coach Heather Pennie said she hoped the change would make the teams more successful and said most athletes supported the move.

“The NSIC is really tough; stepping down will be a more even playing field,” Pennie said.

But Shaun Maloney, senior co-captain of the football team, said he opposed the decision.

“I felt it really hangs out to dry the athletes over the next few years,” he said.

Maloney said he also spoke with recent graduates who were disappointed. “The majority of people I know who graduated really oppose this move, they are proud that we compete in Division II,” he said.

Associate Vice Chancellor Maddy Maxeiner said the University contacted every athletics scholarship donor, seeking input before the decision was made. About 80 percent of responses were favorable.

She said the University also met individually with large donors. “We feel there will be a lot of positive reactions from this as we go forward.

“Our alumni, parents and donors join us in a renewal of Cougar competitiveness,” Maxeiner said.

Olson-Loy agreed:

“We want to be a really good Division III school the way we are a really good liberal arts school.”

Simon E. Chabel welcomes comments at [email protected]