Penn College seeking NCAA Division III status

Penn College announced on Friday that it is pursuing affiliation with Division III of the NCAA.

“We believe that making the transition to the NCAA will align us with a stronger and more widely recognized athletic brand,” Penn College athletic director Scott Kennell said.

Exploratory status, if approved, would last the 2013-14 academic year.

Following their exploratory year the school hopes to enter into a four-year provisional membership in Division III. The NCAA will decide whether or not to keep Penn College permanently after the provisional period has ended. On average, the NCAA accepts four applicants for provisional status each year.

While in the provisional phase Penn College will not be eligible to qualify for NCAA tournaments, but will be eligible to compete for conference championships once the school finds one.

Penn College does not anticipate finding a new conference until after its exploratory year, and plans on remaining in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association as a part of the Penn State University Athletic Conference for the five-year testing duration, which will allow its athletes to compete on the national level.

Penn College anticipates naming six full-time coaches, two of which will be hired in their exploratory year, and another four to be named over the next two years. Though Kennell did not specify which sports would be given the first full-time coaching spots, he did say the school is “looking to add our full-time positions to the teams that bring in the most student athletes.”

For now, the school plans on retaining its current coaches.

“This was nothing they didn’t expect, and they’re ready to jump to the next level,” Kennell said. “Now they are excited about learning how to recruit.”

From a financial standpoint, moving to the NCAA means Penn College must increase its athletic budget, which is currently $500,000 per year. The extent of the increase is unclear, though the school plans on a $150,000 increase in its first year with the NCAA.

The increased financing for the athletic program will help to pay for the new coaching salaries, recruiting expenses, NCAA fees and facility upgrades.

Elliot Strickland, chief of student affairs, said that these increases to the athletic budget will have no adverse effects on the tuition of current students, and expects the move to Division III will increase the size of the student body. Penn College said it has 5,671 students.

“NCAA affiliation is going to give us much wider exposure on a local, regional and national level, which is going to have people perceive, for better or worse, that both the athletic and institutional quality is different,” Strickland said. “So we’ll get some indirect positive impact there.

“The direct impact is that we’re going to recruit 200 to 225 students that would have not come to Penn College had our coaches not come to them. Those additional students will more than offset any increases that we’re going to see in athletics. Student recruitment is the key. NCAA affiliation to us means more students coming to the institution,” Strickland said.

While Penn College officials acknowledged that there is no guarantee their bid for membership will be accepted by the NCAA, they are very optimistic.

“We think this will have a strong reaction in the community,” Kennell said.