Clearly, there is a difference between NCAA Division I (D1) and Division III (D3) wrestling. What I want to discuss here is what those differences actually are. First off, D1 has a higher level of competition and generally more skilled athletes than D3. I don’t really know anyone who would dispute this fact. There are a lot of reasons for this, the main one being that D1 has the largest schools, the biggest budgets, and the most scholarships. If a 3x state champ can go to Northwestern for free or pay upwards of $30,000 to go to Elmhurst, the choice is usually pretty clear. Additionally, the coaching in D1 is, in many cases, better than that in D3. The same higher budgets allow for higher coaching salaries and the hiring of multiple full time assistants. There are very few full time wrestling assistants in D3, and even many of the head coaches have other responsibilities at their respective schools, if the position is full time at all.
The main perception I want to address here is the perception that D3 wrestling isn’t very good. Anyone who follows D3 wrestling already knows it’s good, but there are a lot of people in the wrestling community who don’t follow it at all. I don’t really fault them for this, as it’s not rare to focus on the best, and Illinois or Northwestern are better teams than Augustana or North Central. However, I think many high school coaches do their athletes a disservice by pushing them toward D1 wrestling when D3 is probably more appropriate for most of them. Thanks to coaches, parents, peers, and the media, some 8th place finisher in Pennsylvania AAA thinks he’s too good for D3, when he would have even odds at best to be a national qualifier as a freshman. Again, I understand why coaches push their wrestlers toward D1. It makes them look good to say they have wrestlers on D1 teams, and perhaps they don’t see the value in having former athletes as national qualifiers or All-Americans in D3. Perhaps they also just don’t know very much about D3 wrestling and the quality of the athletes that compete there.
If you get the chance this coming season, go see some D3 wrestling. You’ll see a high level of competition from athletes who work incredibly hard in order to qualify and place at a national tournament that means just as much to them as it does to any D1 athlete. The D3 National Tournament is in Iowa again in 2008, and there are a lot of wrestling fans in Iowa. Even if you usally stick to Iowa, ISU, or UNI, take the trip to Cedar Rapids and watch the tournament. You’ll get the chance to see some great wrestlers. The 2007 tournament featured wrestlers like Augsburg’s Marcus LeVesseur, the first 4x D3 champ; Luther’s Matt Pyle, who pinned 2006 Midlands champ Mike Grimes of NIU; and Midlands placewinners Josh Chelf and Tim Palmer of UW-La Crosse and Blake Gillis of Wartburg. You won’t be disappointed.