D3hoops.com spoke with Birmingham-Southern president David Pollick by phone Friday evening, shortly after the decision to pursue Division III membership was announced. Pollick, who was president at Division III Lebanon Valley, has been president at Birmingham-Southern for two years.
D3: What were your impressions of BSC as a Division I school?
DP: Probably the best Division I program I've ever seen in terms of integrity, quality of coaches, athletic director, quality of performance, simply superb. It graduates student-athletes at a higher level than the rest of the student body. We have a very strong academic profile so all of our kids are graduating at a very high rate, with very strong GPAs, but the athletes fit right into that profile. There was no deviation at all.
D3: It sounds an awful lot like a Division III school.
DP: The college itself matches that profile, we're 1,300-plus students, a Phi Beta Kappa institution, we look like the ones you're familiar with, the Gettysburgs, Dickinsons, F&Ms, from Pennsylvania, and from here, Sewanee, Rhodes, Trinity, Austin College and Southwestern.
D3: It's probably no coincidence that you just named five members of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
DP: Clearly that would be the conference that we're considering most and hope that they consider us. They're the strongest academic Division III conference in the region, aside from the one with Emory, Chicago, the research schools.
D3: Did you consider any other classification for Birmingham-Southern?
DP: No. We had no interest in looking at Division II. We're looking at that which complements our academic profile and we believe that amateur athletics is where institutions ought to be finding themselves.
D3: Are you saying D-I doesn't qualify as amateur athletics?
DP: You have to begin with the notion that you're paying people to compete in athletics. They're getting (a scholarship) because they're an athlete. By definition when you're paying someone money you're moving into a professional role.
D3: You have more than 100 scholarships. How will that money be redistributed?
DP: We have a total of 116 scholarships, 44 are full ride. The remaining 72 can be distributed over a greater number of students than 72, which is how we get to a total of 200 athletes. The discount rate is enormously high when it's 100% of tuition. We will go down to comparable discount rates with the rest of our student body. Those resources we save: 1) will be just saving, and 2) will be money available to recruit students of diversity. We want to look at more need dollars for students.
D3: One of the criticisms, in fact, is that you would be losing diversity in terms of international students.
DP: We currently have 44 international or minority students in our athletics program. I'm willing to provide the need money for a student. You can diversify if you're willing to put the resources behind it.
D3: What message would you send to your current student-athletes?
DP: The honest message is we remain absolutely committed to athletics on this campus, but we have to make sure we are serving our mission in the best way possible. All the students that are on scholarships now will have them until they graduate. The only question in their mind if they must play D-I athletics over D-III. The athlete that competes, regardless of level, always sees it as the most important. But this is the opportunity to be one of the best Division III programs in the United States.
D3: How about the coaches?
DP: The coaches, of course, they want to be D-I, that's what they want to be. They are all under contracts – we will honor those, and we hope they stay with us. We certainly want them here. The board decided this today, we have many, many alums that are supportive, that believe this is what we should be. Keep in mind this is only a seven-year institution in Division I, there are not many alumni from us as a Division I school.
D3: What's the timeframe for adding football?
DP: That depends how our discussions goes with the SCAC. We have to apply to the SCAC, we are not in it automatically by any means. In that process we'll be talking about our calendar for transition and the role football will play on campus.
D3: When you got to Birmingham-Southern, were you intending to take them to Division III?
DP: It was resolved during the search process. I think every president that was a finalist asked a question: How did you get here? Being the smallest school in Division I, it looked odd. I accepted that we were here and did not make plans not to be in Division I. The board asked about use of resources and whether Division I was the right place for us. I didn't come with that agenda in mind.
D3: What Division III athletic program would you most hope Birmingham-Southern emulates once you've settled in?
DP: I don't know the inner working of everyone's athletic department to tell you. I can't tell you whether a Swarthmore or a Dickinson, I just don't know them well enough. I can only tell you about the schools I've been at. I was at SUNY-Cortland, St. John's (Minn.) and Lebanon Valley, so I know those programs. They were all strong programs.
D3: Have you kept up with developments in financial aid in Division III since you left Lebanon Valley?
DP: I continue to watch that. That's been a long discussion in Division III and it's only gotten stronger in how it's gone on, how you maintain a level field in Division III. I've watched the discussions, I'm aware of the potential moratorium on growth, which is coming more to a head in Division III. I think it's something colleges have to address and the NCAA has to address. We need to go back to the notion that sports is a fantastic activity that contributes to the maturity of our students, but not let the tail wag the dog.
Presidents have been rising up on this over the years and I'm sure it will continue.