Penn State Abington recently sprinted closer to achieving full membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III. The NCAA approved the campus' petition to accelerate the process by 12 months, which means Abington’s active NCAA status could begin with the 2012-13 academic year.
“It’s exciting," said Karen Weaver, Abington campus' athletic director. "We took everything the NCAA has requested to heart. We’ve prepared a long time for this, and every year we saw progress.”
For some time before the NCAA extended its provisional membership offer in 2009, Abington Chancellor Karen Wiley Sandler spearheaded preparations for the rigorous process, which typically last four years. Weaver said Sandler’s commitment trickled down throughout the college community.
“It started with the chancellor’s desire to use the NCAA affiliation to increase understanding about Penn State Abington and the opportunity for students to earn four-year degrees,” Weaver said. “She knew this would be valuable for recruitment and retention of quality students and student-athletes.”
Abington added new sports to its roster and improved existing athletic facilities among other changes while waiting for the NCAA to lift a moratorium on new Division III membership applications. When the moratorium was lifted in 2009, Abington was one of only three colleges in the nation invited to begin the provisional process.
While there is certainly prestige associated with being an NCAA member, it also carries many tangible benefits. Student-athletes are eligible for scholarships to help fund graduate studies and they, along with faculty and staff, may be offered opportunities for professional development through conferences and other training subsidized by the NCAA.
Brian Martinowich, a senior who has played soccer and lacrosse, said, “It adds a new piece to the culture and community of Penn State Abington. It gives Abington the ability to appeal to student-athletes and provide new opportunities that Division III institutions offer.”
And that is important to the college, according to Steven Mostert, Abington director of enrollment management.
“Penn State Abington's inclusion in NCAA Division III athletics is attracting a new group of students. First-year and transfer students are contacting coaches and the admissions office for academics and a place on their favorite sports team,” he said. “We have seen a steady increase in the interest from student-athletes, and we expect the interest to increase as our sports program gains more recognition.”
Faculty athletics representative Tramble T. Turner praised the team effort to enhance Abington and its athletics program.
“Penn State Abington's success this year as the only Division III college allowed to accelerate the membership process is due to the vision and expertise of Karen Weaver and the leadership and commitment to athletics of Karen Sandler,” he said. “In preparing the annual massive briefing book for the NCAA, Dr. Weaver also drew on her past experience as a Big Ten associate athletic director.”
Abington athletics has grown from seven sports to a varsity program that now boasts 14 teams. Men’s and women’s teams are fielded in basketball, cross country, lacrosse, soccer and tennis. Baseball, golf, softball and women’s volleyball round out the athletics program.
According to Weaver, the college community is ready to tackle the last year of the process and achieve active membership. “We are patient but impatient," she said.