April 3 through April 9 is NCAA Division III week, a national event celebrating Division III student-athletes and their impact on the campus communities of the colleges and universities that they attend. This week, the athletic programs of Division III institutions around the country will be holding events highlighting accomplishments in athletics, academics, or community service. Swarthmore’s Division III week events will include program focused around athletic competitions, all-campus events, and community service.
The Division III week events at the college have been coordinated by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, at the college. Different iterations of the committee also exist at the Conference and Division level. Michael Rubayo ’17, who plays for the men’s basketball team, and Associate Athletic Director Nnenna Akotaobi represent the college in the Centennial Conference SAAC as well as representing the Centennial Conference in the NCAA Division III SAAC.
“Division III Week at Swarthmore is hosted by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. It is an opportunity for SAAC to organize events and activities that celebrate the student-athlete community, thank the support staff that make their participation in sport possible, and engage in service projects that live out the Division III and Swarthmore mission,” Akotaobi explained.
Division III athletics does not traditionally have the widespread viewership or fanbases of athletics in other Divisions. In response to this, Division III week was created by the NCAA Division III administration in order to highlight the the achievements of Division III student-athletes and their role in their campus communities.
“Division III within the NCAA is the only division that doesn’t [allocate] any money for the schools to play sports. And so maybe five, six years ago, the Division III administration in Indianapolis decided to put together Division III week to celebrate why the Division III student-athletes chose to play at the Division III level,” said Rubayo.
“DIII Week is a nationwide celebration of the NCAA’s largest Division with over 180,000 student-athletes, including the approximately 450 students who participate in intercollegiate athletics at Swarthmore. This annual celebration is now in its sixth year. During the week-long celebration, Swarthmore and its divisional peers are able to showcase the philosophy of Division III and the things that make our Division and student-athletes unique,” said Akotaobi.
The difference between DIII athletics and DI athletics may be exacerbated on Swarthmore’s campus, where academics are a serious and time-consuming part of every student’s life. So, student attendance at athletic competitions is not always high. Before her career in athletic administration, Akotaobi was herself a DI athlete, having an impressive basketball career at the University of Denver. After beginning a career in DIII athletic administration, Akotaobi gained a unique perspective on the differences between the collegiate experiences of DI and DIII student athletes.
“Division III provides many more opportunities for balance than I had as a Division I student-athlete. I had an incredible undergraduate experience, and I was quite fortunate to have participated in a sport and receive an athletic scholarship, but my obligations for four years were limited in scope. My priorities were primarily my academic work and my team,” said Akotaobi.
Although many student-athletes at Swarthmore dedicate substantial time and work to their sport, often including two-hour practices six days a week, the college’s academics are quite demanding across the board. Student-athletes at the college are given the space to and encouraged to pursue their other influences through the wide variety of clubs, groups, and extracurricular activities that can be found at the college.
“In many ways, I envy the experiences of the student-athletes at Swarthmore who are able to compete in their sport at a high level while being fully engaged in campus life. They explore their passions outside of their respective playing arenas, and enjoy opportunities to study abroad, engage in research and other academic pursuits outside of the classroom, hold membership in clubs and organizations, pursue employment and internships, and immerse themselves in the social life of the College,” said Akotaobi. “Many of these things were not a part of my collegiate experience. Division III Week is a great way to honor multidimensional students who participate in athletics on this campus while following their other passions and interests.”
Rubayo concurred, noting that student-athletes at the college take part in a variety of campus groups and activities, allowing sports to be a facet of, instead of the whole of, their identities.
“We like to enjoy more than just sports. We love sports, but it’s just a part of us, it doesn’t necessarily define us. You’ll see that with, on our campus, a lot of athletes in a cappella groups, RnM, doing all sorts of stuff – orchestra, all these different clubs around campus,” said Rubayo.
The events planned for Division III week at the college include social media takeovers, food offered before or during sports games, an all campus dodgeball tournament, and several service events. This programming was chosen to allow students to showcase their athletic achievements, increase student engagement with Swat sports, and allow student-athletes to give back to their campus community.
“There’s three D’s in Division III which are the three main principles: discover, develop, and dedicate. So, it’s the idea of highlighting what we do and sort of apply those principles. Discover what we do beyond the field, the court, but also what we do on it. Develop the idea of a growing community and try to highlight that we’re more than just student athletes, we’re students first, that’s a big thing in Division III. And then show how dedicated we are, not just on the field, on the court, but in the classroom, in the orchestra pit, on the dance floor,” said Rubayo.
Akotaobi explained that the various events each have different roles in fulfilling the mission of DIII week, as outlined by SAAC and the NCAA.
“The social events are an opportunity for both students and student-athletes to come together in fellowship and build community. The service activities like the Sharples Takeover and the Youth Sports Clinic are integral to SAAC’s mission and their stated purpose of ‘Cultivate[ing] and strengthen[ing] relationships between the athletic community and the campus community…’. The social media takeovers are a nice way for student-athletes to showcase their daily lives,” said Akotaobi.
The food events include an ice cream stand at the women’s lacrosse game on Wednesday in partnership with the President’s Office, as well as a barbeque cookout that will be held during the baseball games this Saturday.
The service events include student-athletes helping to serve food in Sharples on Monday, fundraising for the Special Olympics throughout the week, and student-athletes teaching local children their sports on Sunday.
“DIII itself sponsors the Special Olympics, so we’re gonna be raising money all week for Special Olympics at all of our events. Sunday we’re doing a Youth in Sports day, so we’ve invited kindergarteners through sixth graders from around the region to come hang out for free for two, two and a half hours with the student-athletes and they’re gonna give them an introduction to their sport and just have some fun,” said Rubayo.
In addition to the Youth in Sports day and baseball barbeque cookout this weekend, students have this Friday’s all campus five-on-five dodgeball tournament to look forward to. With community events like those during DIII Week, the emergence of dominant teams including women’s soccer, men’s basketball, and men’s swimming, athletics at the college appear to be rising to a more integral position in campus culture.