Keene State Athletics is approaching the 17th anniversary of KSC switching from Division II to Division III. 

With this anniversary drawing near, employees and coaches took time to remember the controversy the switch created back in the late 1990s.

A 1993 summer edition of Keene State Today wrote, “On April 28, 1993, President Judith A. Sturnick and Athletic Director Joanne Fortunato announced that Keene State College will move by the fall of 1997 to Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.”

After moving from the NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] to the NECC [New England Collegiate Conference] just a decade prior, Keene State athletics found itself preparing to make the move to the Little East Conference, changing its game plans in more ways than one. With this move from Division II to Division III, Keene State coaches were faced with the challenge of recruiting without scholarship money; an issue that was already difficult to work around while in Division II.

File Photo / Brian Cantore

File Photo / Brian Cantore

Stuart Kaufman, the KSC sports information director during the time of the switch, had much to say about the college’s athletic division change. He noted that while Keene was allotted scholarship money when they were Division II, it still was difficult to compete with larger schools.

“Unfortunately, many of these other New England Collegiate Conference Division II teams that they were going up against had a lot more scholarships than what Keene State was able to offer,” Kaufman said.

“So they were going up against teams, you know, that had more quality-scholarship players. And we were not, for the most part—we were competitive in some sports, but across the board we really weren’t that competitive,” Kaufman said.

He went on to explain the process involved in the decision to switch from Division II to Division III, as he said that President Sturnick played a major role.

“She [Sturnick] went out and did a [study] on where they thought Keene State should be athletically. And she came to the conclusion that she thought it’d be better for Keene State to move to Division III—more participation and things like that,” Kaufman said.

While Sturnick may have had the college’s best interests in mind, Kaufman said that there were many mixed feelings across the campus regarding her decision.

At the time, he explained, there was an almost separate entity between the college’s athletic department and the administration, specifically regarding the topic of switching over to Division III.

“There were a lot of problems when that came out,” Kaufman said, “First of all, the majority of coaches felt that they weren’t a part of the decision-making process. That this was a decision that was made without their input and I think several coaches didn’t like that. That really caused a problem.” Switching divisions left Keene State coaches with the new challenge of recruiting players for their teams without scholarship money, while still keeping in mind the other conference schools that might be gunning for the same athlete.

Kaufman explained, “As a coach, having scholarships is nice. You can go up to a kid an say, ‘Hey, you wanna come to Keene State? We can give you a scholarship.’ So now all of a sudden there’s no scholarships and there are a lot more Division-Three schools than there are Division-Two schools, so recruiting became really difficult for a lot of our coaches because they were going up against so many other Division-Three school.” Kaufman continued, “I don’t think she understood that when you’re in Division-Three you’re not paying money in scholarships, but you still have to pay more in things like having to go out and recruit.”

When Stanley Yarosewick, known to many as Dr. Y, entered the picture as Keene State President in 1994, he decided to look into the situation again.

“I think he really gave it a thorough [look],” Kaufman said, “He looked at all the different sides and he came to the same conclusion as what Dr. Sturnick thought was correct for the college—that we should move to Division-Three.”

While the move to Division III may have initially presented problems, coaches and players have warmed up to the change as the years went on.

Women’s soccer coach Denise Lyons is one of the few who found herself coaching both Division II and Division III at KSC and noted that besides the money, the difference between divisions is not as drastic as people may make it seem. “Competition-wise, I think that when we were Division-Two we were very, very competitive and Division-Three we’re competitive. I mean, I know that our [women’s soccer] teams right now could beat many Division-Two teams. I don’t think competition for me, for our team, women’s soccer, has dropped at all,” Lyons said.

Senior lacrosse player Andrew Bosco shared a similar opinion regarding Division III’s competitiveness.

“Personally, I like being part of the Little East Conference in D-Three. It is very competitive, especially against our rivals East-Conn.  Our team was ranked top-twenty by Midsummer Night’s Power Ranking this fall, which says a lot about the program and coaching caliber,” Bosco said, “I think maintaining our D-Three status is more beneficial. We remain competitive, but still have room to grow.” While Lyons did mention that lack of scholarship money can hinder recruitment efforts, Lyons said she does not regard the Division KSC is in as an overwhelming factor in bringing in new athletes. “We have to make the most of it. I like the college, I like what Keene State brings, I like the type of students we bring to Keene State, how it’s a beautiful campus. But Keene has so much to offer—beautiful city, great professors, a wide-range of academics to choose from. I think it’s a great fit for a lot of students,” Lyons said.

She continued, “I don’t think it matters what division we are, I think it’s an easy sell, once you get them here [the recruits on campus]—they look around and see what Keene State has to offer. We get a lot of recruits interested in Keene State because of the school and what is has to offer. So, the soccer is just a plus for them.”  All around, Keene State’s decision to switch to Division III is regarded as a sound decision by many, including Lyons and Kaufman.

“The programs across the board are all on an equal basis and that was really the best thing for this program. And once we went into Division-Three and the Little East Conference in the fall of ‘97, many teams just really excelled in the conference. It just proved that it was the right move to make,” Kaufman said.

 

Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at aondreicka@keene-equinox.com