D3 Week: Matt's D3 Experience

The MIAC is celebrating 2014 NCAA Division III Week, which runs April 7-13. The MIAC Media Blog is featuring a series of  posts throughout the week from MIAC staff and student-athletes as part of the celebration. Today, MIAC Assistant Executive Director Matt Higgins shares his path to finding a home in Division III.

Finding a home in Division III

By Matt Higgins

Unlike the other two members of the MIAC staff, I'm not a former Division III student-athlete. I took a different path to get to my current position as the MIAC's Assistant Executive Director. I've wound my way through a Division I school, working in the media and a sports information stop in the NAIA. However, I really feel like I've found at home in the MIAC, and have come to cherish Division III and its values more than I could have ever imagined.

After playing three - and sometimes four - sports from childhood through my senior year of high school, I decided I didn't want to pursue athletics in college and passed on a few Division III football opportunities. However, I still wanted to be connected to sports so I attended the University of Minnesota and completed a degree in Journalism. From there, I spent two years as the sports writer and sports editor at the Stillwater (Minn.) Courier and Lake Elmo Leader weekly newspapers before moving on to a sports editor role at a bigger daily paper in Mitchell, S.D. (Yes, the home of the World's Only Corn Palace.)

During my stint at the Mitchell Daily Republic, my main beat was covering Dakota Wesleyan University (NAIA), which gave me my first real glimpse into small-college athletics, and I was hooked. A year later, I took my career path and joined the Dakota Wesleyan athletic department as the sports information director. Fortunately, that new direction led me to my current position. Now in my fourth year with the MIAC, I'm finally at the stage of my career where I'm not thinking, "What's next?" and am only focused on providing a great experience for the MIAC's student-athletes.

When I made the move into sports information, I always envisioned my "dream job" to be back at my Division I alma mater, or with the Minnesota Twins. However, I've really grown to love what the MIAC and Division III stand for. Though I'm not a former Division III student-athlete, the values and the mission have been a perfect fit for me, both personally and professionally.

In the wake of the recently completed Division I Men's Basketball Final Four, there have been many who openly scoff at the NCAA's notion of the "student-athlete." But those criticisms only focus on Division I, where schools are perceived to use high-profile athletes to make money, and the athletes are perceived to use the schools only as a launch pad toward a professional career.  For those of us who are ingrained in Division III, those generalizations only apply to a fraction of a percent of the NCAA's governance, and aren't fair to the true student-athletes we support and represent.

All the commercials and public service announcements produced by the NCAA in recent years may seem like a punch line when related to the few high-profile, revenue-generating sports like Division I football and men's basketball, but they perfectly apply to Division III. Almost all of our student-athletes do, "go pro in something other than sports," and attribute any success they encounter to their combined college academic and athletic experience. The skills they learn through college athletic participation- teamwork, dedication, time management, motivation, discipline, leadership - end up being far more valuable than any victories, or even championships.

Thanks to my position in the MIAC, I am able to play a role in the college athletic experience for the student-athletes at our 13 institutions. I get to promote their accomplishments, highlight their achievements, and work to ensure their competitions are fair and safe. All the while, I know their experience of playing sports in the MIAC is enhancing their preparation to be great people and professionals later in life. That's incredibly gratifying.

Though I wasn't born and bred in Division III, I've found a home, and there's no place I'd rather be.

MIAC Celebrates Division III Week
In addition to the MIAC blog series throughout the week, the conference and its members will celebrate 2014 NCAA Division III Week in a number of ways. To track all the action throughout the week, visit the MIAC's Division III Week Home Page.

We posted another new video to our YouTube channel today as part of our Division III Week celebration. This one (embedded below) salutes our 2013-14 fall and winter championship teams. There are more blogs, videos and stories to come, so stay tuned to the blog and the Division III Week home page!

If you are a MIAC student-athlete and would like to contribute a guest blog, or you'd like to let us know about a Division III Week celebration or event on your campus, email MIAC Assistant Director Megan Gaard at: mgaard@miacathletics.com.

Happy Division III Week, MIAC friends! 

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