Stephens College is getting closer to switching affiliations from NCAA Division III to the NAIA, though a final decision might not be made until next month.
“We still have quite a lot of paperwork to file before the NAIA national convention in March,” Athletic Director Deb Duren said. “I will attend the national convention and answer any questions about Stephens they may have.”
NAIA officials visited the Stephens campus on Thursday to evaluate the school’s athletic facilities and eligibility. The visit came after the Stephens Board of Trustees passed a resolution Feb. 7 to pursue NAIA membership.
“The visit went very well,” Duren said. “It was basically an opportunity for their officials to meet with senior members of our staff and explain NAIA policy.”
The switch would allow Stephens to grant athletic scholarships for the first time in its history. The amount of scholarship money available would vary based on whether Stephens joined Division I or Division II.
An NCAA Division III mandate prevents schools from giving athletic scholarships. Duren said, though, that some schools find ways around the rule, making it harder for Stephens to compete.
“It’s certainly not a level playing field,” Duren said. “There are a lot of schools that have built very powerful athletic programs with other money. We have not been willing to enter into that. If we scholarship athletes we want it to be above board.”
The NAIA is an association of schools that are smaller than most NCAA Division II schools but wish to award athletic scholarships. The NAIA has 300 members and the NCAA more than 1,000 schools.
Duren said many Division III schools circumvent NCAA regulations by giving leadership or academic scholarships to students with high athletic prowess.
A change of affiliation could also provide a boost to the Stephens program. The Stars basketball team finished 1-18 under first-year coach Dane Pavlovich this season.
Pavlovich said Stephens does not have to look far to find a model for NAIA success.
“We want to make this a program like Columbia College, a program that has come a long way in only a few years,” Pavlovich said. “We want this to be a program people know and talk about.”
Duren said she is optimistic about the program’s future, but it is important not to forget the context.
“The one thing that’s important to me and that is important to this institution is that this program grows appropriately,” Duren said. “If you pour enough money into an athletic program you can build it overnight, but we don’t want to do that. We will always be an academics first and athletics second institution.