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5 Things to Know About Comet Sports, NCAA Division III Competition

Editor's Note: The following are excerpts from "5 Things to Know About the Comets and D-III Sportsin the latest edition of UT Dallas Magazine.

Bill Pettitt

Bill Petitt is the athletic director at UT Dallas.

The UT Dallas athletics program has earned plenty of bragging rights in its 17 years in the American Southwest Conference, racking up multiple conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances.

Yet, misconceptions persist about the program — and Division III athletics in general — from the level of competition to recruiting student-athletes who can excel at the University.

Here are five things that might surprise you about Division III athletics at UT Dallas:

DIVISION III: MORE THAN GLORIFIED INTRAMURAL SPORTS

Don’t assume that because NCAA Division III schools don’t award athletic scholarships that their athletic programs are “small-time.” The student-athletes at UTD are far from a “rag-tag bunch of leftovers who show up just wanting to be part of a team,” said Athletic Director Bill Petitt.

“There’s a perception out there that Division III programs are made up entirely of kids who were not good enough to get athletic scholarships,” Petitt said. “But in reality, these are high-level kids, athletically and academically, who come here because they want to achieve success on multiple levels.

NCAA RULES APPLY TO DIVISION III SCHOOLS, TOO

Division I schools get much of the attention when it comes to NCAA regulations. But Division III programs are subject to just as many — although different — rules.

“Because of the emphasis on the total student-athlete experience, many people are surprised to know that there is only a limited amount of time each year that Division III coaches can spend with their teams,” said Assistant Athletic Director Angela Marin, who handles compliance.

For the NCAA, it’s all about the academics. “The NCAA does not allow Division III schools to offer any kind of special tutoring or academic assistance that’s not available to the general student population,” Marin said. “But our coaches do a good job in monitoring academic progress. They encourage student-athletes to take advantage of UTD’s extensive academic resources if they need help.”

UTD Comets logo

Upcoming Comet Home Games

                                        Jan. 14
Women's Basketball vs. UT Tyler, 5:30 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. UT Tyler, 7:30 p.m.

                                          Jan. 16
Women's Basketball vs. LeTourneau, 1 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. LeTourneau, 3 p.m.

                                          Feb. 1
Women's Basketball vs. Ozarks, 5:30 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs Ozarks, 7:30 p.m.

                                          Feb. 6
Women's Basketball vs. Belhaven, 1 p.m.
Softball vs. Pacific Lutheran (doubleheader), 2 p.m.
Men's Basketball vs. Belhaven, 3 p.m.

That kind of attention certainly pays off. UTD’s student-athletes continually surpass the NCAA’s minimum academic criteria. In 2014-15, for example, almost half of the University’s 260 student-athletes were named to the American Southwest Conference Academic All-Conference teams. And, as a group, student-athletes compiled a cumulative 3.16 grade-point average.

NOT YOUR TYPICAL DIVISION III SCHOOL

Of the more than 435 Division III schools — the NCAA’s largest division  — UT  Dallas  is  the  second  largest  with  more  than 24,000 students. New York University, with more than 50,000 students, is the largest.

“A typical Division III school is a small, private college with under 2,000 students,” said Petitt, noting that 80 percent of these schools are concentrated in the East Coast and Great Lakes regions of the country.

The majority of schools in the American Southwest Conference, to which UT Dallas belongs, fit this model.

RECRUITING: A WHOLE OTHER GAME

Finding student-athletes who can excel for the Comets in athletics is a particularly challenging process for UTD coaches, and one that continues year-round.

Because UTD has some of the highest admission standards in the state, “The first question we always have to ask is, ‘Can they get in?’” said Comets men’s soccer coach Jason Hirsch BS’05, MBA’11.

“We are constantly looking for student-athletes who can compete athletically at this level, but they also have to have the academic background first to get into school here. If not, there’s no use wasting time on them,” he said. “We can’t bend the rules a little to get someone we really want.”

Another obstacle is the “scholarship mindset” many high school athletes and coaches have in Texas.

“Everyone wants to be able to tell their buddies they got a scholarship to play somewhere,” said baseball coach Shane Shewmake, who is competing for players with Division I and II and other four-year schools in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as junior colleges that are offering at least some athletic scholarship money.

“What kids don’t realize is that most of these scholarships are only partial, particularly in sports like baseball, volleyball and soccer,” Shewmake said. “They may be getting just half their tuition covered, or something like that. There are very few full rides.”

MONEY MATTERS

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that UTD athletics does not receive a penny of taxpayer money from the state,” Petitt said. The program is primarily funded through a modest athletic fee charged to every full-time student, a fee that has not increased in several years.

“People at other schools just automatically assume we have this unlimited gold card and can do whatever we want just because we’re a large school. But that simply is not the case,” he said.

For any additional needs, the athletics program must compete with more than 200 other student organizations for funding from the Student Fee Advisory Committee, or raise the money through outside sponsorships or donations.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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