This past year has been tremendous for the athletics department. The school has gotten two ASC tournament championships, advanced three teams to the NCAA tournament and hosted the first round of the national tournament three times. With that said, it may need to invest in an arena that can better host these events in the future.
The recent streak of success started with the men’s basketball team last spring. After winning the ASC regular season crown, the team hosted and won the ASC championship and went on to host the first round of the national men’s basketball tournament. The team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after playing in front of the largest crowd in school history during its second-round game against Whitworth, where they eventually defeated the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, that year’s national champion.
This past fall, the men’s soccer team hosted the NCAA tournament after claiming the ASC regular season title. The team went on to win its first ever game in the national playoff in front of one of the largest crowds of the year. The torch was then passed on to the women’s basketball team, who shocked the conference by beating UT Tyler in the ASC tournament to get the chance to host the first round of the NCAA tournament.
After beating Rhodes College for the team’s first ever win in the big dance, it took on and beat UT Tyler once again in an emotional victory that secured the team a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen and the best finish in program history.
This success has come despite the challenges UTD faces playing as a public Division III school. At this level of collegiate sports, many schools are private, which gives programs the opportunity to give their athletes the benefits of having campuses that are enriched by money from often wealthy donors and sometimes lax academic standards. UTD has never had that luxury. A public school embedded in the heart of Richardson, the school has always struggled to get athletes to come here and convince them to stay within the confines of its small community.
What has kept athletes coming here is the ability to offer high academic standards while still giving them the opportunity to compete. This is one thing that has allowed UTD to stand out from the rest of the crowd. There’s not many other schools that have the academic standards and facilities that are here that compete at the Division III level. What also makes UTD stand out is its size. With over 20,000 students, it is one of the largest schools to compete at this level.
The problem that still plagues UTD when it comes to competing nationally is the way collegiate sports are organized in other parts of the country. In Texas, the best athletes typically have the opportunity to go to a number of Division I schools, while athletes at lower levels go to lower divisions. In states like Wisconsin, however, there are only one or two Division I institutions and almost no Division II universities.
This means that athletes who don’t make it in one of the few Division I institutions who want to stay in-state choose to go to a Division III school. What results is Division I talent at a Division III level.
For UTD to keep up, it will have to start attracting athletes who can keep up with this talent. This means the programs here will have to offer more than what the school currently has. Looking at athletic facilities like the ones at UT Tyler and Louisiana College, it can be argued that UTD is already behind.
When the women’s basketball team played in the Sweet Sixteen this month, it traveled to Calvin College, which has one of the largest and most advanced basketball facilities at the Division III level. The court was complete with a video board, arena seating and a press box. Something like this will allow UTD to not only attract better athletes, but it will also serve a more practical purpose in hosting events like graduations and concerts.
As the school continues to grow, athletics will grow along with it. A strong athletics program has always been an indicator of where the rest of the school is in its progress. If UTD wants to one day claim a national title in a NCAA sport, it will need to find a way to get past natural advantages other schools have in recruiting.