In my first year at Pacific Lutheran University, I have come to appreciate what a special place this is. I know we have a unique opportunity to work together to build upon our past successes by assessing, evaluating and creating a vision for the future of intercollegiate athletics.
We have had a proud tradition of athletic and academic success at PLU. Our 20 men’s and women’s intercollegiate teams – more than 500 student-athletes – regularly compete at the conference, regional and national levels. The football team has won four national titles, women’s soccer has captured three and softball two. Our student-athletes are regularly rated among the best in academic performance as well.
Transition to NCAA Division III
In 1997, we supported a shift in the Northwest Conference national affiliation from the NAIA to NCAA Division III. Leaving behind years of success
at the NAIA level, the university embraced the move as one that would foster equity, sportsmanship and genuine concern for the student-athlete. This transition brought with it a change in philosophy.
The most notable and significant change was in the area of financial aid. Under the new national association, student-athletes would no longer be able to receive financial aid based on athletic ability. Competing at a quality academic Division III institution that cares equally for its academics and athletics is the purest example of being a college student-athlete. The idea of playing a sport because you want to, because you love it, instead of because you have to, is both rewarding and meaningful.
There are four additional guiding principles of the Division III philosophy.
First, athletics is celebrated as an integral part of PLU’s mission and culture. The highest priority is placed on the overall quality of the educational experience of our student-athletes. Division III athletics offers student-athletes the opportunity to become well-rounded individuals who successfully integrate athletics and academics. Student-athletes are fully part of the student body and they experience the full range of college life.
Second, we have a commitment to broad-based programming, providing equitable athletic opportunities for both genders, giving equal emphasis to men’s and women’s sports. Division III institutions must sponsor at least five sports for men and five for women. There are minimum contest requirements for all sports and minimum participant requirements for individual sports. Presently, PLU sponsors 20 intercollegiate programs, 10 for men and 10 for women. We encourage participation by maximizing the number and variety of athletics opportunities available to students.
Third, the student-athlete’s experience is of paramount concern. PLU seeks to establish and maintain an environment in which a student-athlete’s activities are conducted as an integral part of his or her educational experience. The goal is to provide all teams with adequate facilities, competent coaching and appropriate competitive opportunities – providing support for all student-athletes in their effort to reach the highest levels of athletics performance, including opportunities for participation in national championships.
Finally, Division III athletics encourages the development of sportsmanship and positive social attitudes. Coaches and players treat each other with respect, and administrators work to foster a positive competitive environment. PLU athletics continue to create an atmosphere to promote school spirit by providing exciting athletic events for students and the community.
The future of PLU athletics
These clearly defined guiding principles provide a basis for all decisions related to the future of PLU athletics. As we continue to assess and evaluate our identity and vision for intercollegiate athletics, we are determined to provide an atmosphere for success.
Building on PLU 2010 and the mission of the university, we are in the process of developing a strategic plan to guide our decisions in the next three to five years. Expectations will be clearly defined. Measurable realistic goals will be established and a continued tradition of academic and athletic excellence will prevail.
The primary challenge is providing the resources to all coaches to be successful. These resources, both human and financial, will be imperative for future success. The increasing costs associated with operating an intercollegiate athletics program will place more emphasis on external funding sources and additional fund raising to provide the level of support necessary to compete at the regional and national level.
Continued evaluation is necessary to determine whether we are attempting to do too much with the limited amount of dedicated resources. Are we spread too thin? Are we genuinely providing the same quality experience to each student-athlete?
In addition to human and financial resources, another major focus is the improvement of all athletic facilities and fields. This will be a primary focal point over the next several years. As with many Division III institutions, at PLU athletic facilities are multi-purpose facilities. Improvement to these facilities will be a benefit to the student body at-large and the overall educational experience for all students. Discussions are ongoing for creating major changes to the current athletic/recreational facilities and fields.
This is truly an exciting and significant time in defining the future of PLU athletics.
Our coaches and staff have worked hard to establish the foundation for continued success. I look forward to working with them and our students to provide the leadership for further growth and creating excellent opportunities for a quality student-athlete experience.
Laurie Turner is director of athletics at PLU