Several years ago, Indiana University professor Murray Sperber published a fascinating book titled, Beer and Circus. Considered the country's leading authority on college sports, Sperber argued that big-time intercollegiate athletics has had a profound and tragic impact on higher education, depriving students of the education they deserved.
Beer and Circus has become a "must-read" for every college president and chancellor. As chancellor of one of the 300 NCAA Division II schools in the U.S. and Canada, however, I can tell you that the "beer and circus" scenario is a world away from what I see every day on the UIS campus.
Division II Athletics is based on an institutional commitment to providing a balanced educational experience for student-athletes. According to the Division II philosophy, students who participate in athletics are students first, with the same opportunities and expectations for academic achievement as other students. Division II Athletics offers high-level and exciting competition. This is especially true in UIS's Great Lakes Valley Conference, which was named this month as one of the nation's top NCAA Division II conferences in terms of both academic and athletic success. Community service is also an essential element of Division II and all DII athletes contribute to their communities via team-based activities in local schools and organizations. Academics, athletics and service is a winning combination that provides a path to graduation and future success for thousands of Division II student-athletes each year.
So let me introduce you to a few UIS Division II student-athletes:
Sarah Gray is a senior softball player from Decatur majoring in Liberal Studies. Like over 50% of UIS student-athletes, Sarah was named to the UIS Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll last semester which means her grade point average is above 3.0. She earned this academic distinction at the same time she started at second base for 57 games, led the conference with 47 stolen bases and helped her team win the GLVC West Division title and advance to the university's first-ever appearance in an NCAA national tournament. Sarah also has a part-time job and has volunteered in the Springfield community with Toys for Tots, canned goods drives and the annual Washington Park Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular fund-raiser for the Rees Carillon.
Kyle Gupton is majoring in Social Work and plays on the UIS men's basketball team. Kyle is a senior who transferred last year from a community college in Michigan. He is also on the AD's Academic Honor Roll. I remember Kyle best from this past basketball season for his "dead-eye aim" from the three-point line. He drained 56 three-pointers on his way to scoring a season total of 288 points and providing basketball fans, including me, with a whole lot of thrilling moments in the UIS basketball arena. Off the court and off campus, Kyle has participated in a mentoring program at local elementary schools and he was nominated this last year by his teammates for the GLVC Conference Sportsmanship Award.
Erin Egolf is another senior - a midfielder on the UIS women's soccer team who graduated from Chatham Glenwood High School. Erin is an outstanding student majoring in Business Management and her academic achievements include the Chancellor's Academic Honor Roll (GPA above 3.5), the Division II Athletic Directors' Association Academic Achievement Award and the Academic All-Great Lakes Valley Conference Team. Erin led the team in goals last season while serving as team captain. She is currently an officer on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Sarah, Kyle and Erin are just a few of the nearly 200 UIS student-athletes and the 100,000 student-athletes who compete in Division II intercollegiate sports every year across the country. More importantly, they are among the over 70% of student-athletes who earn their college degrees at the same time they are competing successfully in Division II athletics. I am looking forward to shaking their hands at commencement next spring.
With basketball season just around the corner, I encourage sports fans in our community to come to campus and check out the UIS Division II men's and women's basketball teams. Springfield is our town, and these are your teams. I’m very confident that Kyle Gupton is again going to be dropping them in from beyond the three-point line and, at half-time, the Chancellor will buy you a popcorn!