As it stands right now, Division III is the only collegiate division that does not allow players to wear pads during spring practices. Players take the field in the spring with a jersey and pair of shorts as practices trended more towards conditioning than anything resembling a practice in the fall.
A recent vote aimed to change that immediately.
Over the weekend at the NCAA Convention, a number of proposals were voted on, including "Proposal 5" which called for the immediate of addition pads during spring ball (otherwise called the non-traditional season) for Division III programs.
The rationale for the proposal, according to the official NCAA publication (which can be read here), stated the following:
Football student-athletes are not currently provided similar opportunities to those afforded other student-athletes with fall or spring championships to develop their sport-specific skills during a nontraditional segment. The existing provision for strength and conditioning sessions and limited skill instruction does not allow for comprehensive skill development for all students involved in the sport of football.
As safety concerns related to the sport of football have increased, so has the need for instruction and practice on proper blocking and tackling, the effectiveness of which is minimized without equipment. Further, with the limitations placed on preseason practices during the traditional segment, time for skill development and technique work is often marginalized in favor of scheme 13 installation and game preparation.
Finally, engaging in football-specific activities without the benefit of protective equipment raises concerns about student-athlete safety. The legislative proposal strives to provide opportunities for comprehensive skill development in a framework designed to maximize student-athlete safety. An acclimatization period similar to the outline in the traditional fall season; defined practice days, activities and equipment; and limits on-field practices and places caps on the amount of live tackling-allowing coaches to teach and students to develop skills.
The "Governance Structure Position" in the official notice opposed the proposal and gave the following reasoning:
The NCAA Division III Presidents Council and Management Council oppose this proposal. The expansion as proposed would require greater athletic training staff attention to football, which would in turn require institutions to increase their athletic training staff or spread the staff across more sports to the detriment of other student-athletes.
In addition to the strain on the athletic training staff, there would be increased demands on equipment personnel and personnel to maintain facilities. Finally, this would result in football student-athletes spending more time on football outside their traditional segment, thereby discouraging engagement in other campus activities.
Consequently, the Councils do not support this legislation as it will increase the demands on student-athletes, institutional athletic training staff, facilities and personnel in general
Before the official vote took place, Prop 5 was one of the most hotly debates topics up for a vote.
When the final initial votes were tallied, you could apparently hear the crowd gasp.
The final tally was so close that the proposal was later brought up for reconsideration by a number of athletic directors and administrators. While the revote was even closer, the proposal was still defeated. So no padded spring practices allowed for 2015.
After talking with a number of Division III coaches over the past few days, the overwhelming sentiment is that the addition of even just a few padded practices would help tremendously from both a player safety and player development standpoint. It just seems like supporting a nontraditional season is in the best interest of the student-athletes.
College baseball has a nontraditional season in the fall, as does softball, and while I realize that comparing baseball and football are apples and oranges, adding a few athletic trainers for 16 practices in the spring for football (only 3 of them padded) isn't too much to ask when the same is already being done in the fall for baseball's nontraditional season.
I also feel compelled to ask; Why are schools that have chosen to not sponsor football allowed to vote? On the surface, that just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
As a former Division III athlete, the given rationale seems a bit ridiculous to me. However, I do think that they days of a nontraditional season for Division III football are on the horizon, it just won't be this spring.