To the Editor:
For 20 years, the member institutions of the Centennial Conference—Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Haverford, McDaniel, Muhlenberg, Swarthmore, Ursinus, and Washington Colleges, along with the Johns Hopkins University—have been true to their mission statement, which says: "The supervision and oversight of the athletics programs is vested in the president of each institution. Intercollegiate athletic programs are an integral part of the life of the member institutions and complement their educational objectives."
We may not oversee one of the 25 biggest athletic departments in the country ("Who's in Charge of Sports? Maybe Not the President," The Chronicle, September 3), but we do offer well-rounded offerings for a large proportion of our students. In fact, the percentage of students involved in intercollegiate athletics is larger in the Centennial Conference than the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference.
According to Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act data available online, Big Ten schools in 2010 had 7,368 students on team rosters out of a combined enrollment of 308,346—2.39 percent of the undergraduate population. The SEC had 5,633 participants in a combined enrollment of 224,533—2.51 percent. Compare that with the Centennial Conference. For the 2010 reporting year, 5,572 out of 22,535 students participated in intercollegiate athletics, or 24.73 percent—nearly a quarter of the conference's undergraduate population.
The Centennial Presidents Council meets annually to set major policies, act upon recommendations of policy matters from athletics directors, approve the conference budget, and approve personnel recommendations. Individually, the presidents also have the ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the intercollegiate athletics programs at their own institutions.
Together, we have championed NCAA legislation eliminating redshirting and controlling the length and scope of the nontraditional or off-season. We take our oversight role very seriously.
We are disheartened when the public confuses Division III athletics with the Division I commercial-athletics enterprise. In Division III we do not offer athletics scholarships. Our athletes are students first. And we are proud of the fact that all Centennial Conference members have four-year graduation rates of over 67 percent and nine of 11 members have rates above 75 percent.
We take great pride in our involvement with our intercollegiate athletics programs, and we cheer for and have great respect for our students who participate in sports. We recognize that our students learn much on the playing field. However, our students understand that our highest priority is to provide them with an excellent academic experience.
Centennial Conference Presidents Council
The writer is president of Swarthmore College.