D1 and D3 Sports: What’s the Difference?
March 29, 2023
Having coached Division I and Division III track and field, Millikin head sprints coach Steve Talbot can provide a unique perspective in the benefits of both Divisions. However, he is only part of an extremely diverse and experienced staff; head track and field coach Andrew Craycraft competed at the Division I level and now calls Division III Millikin University his home.
There is a stigma when it comes to comparing Division I and Division III athletics, specifically because of the differences between them. These differences, whether it be scholarship money, or as Talbot describes it, “the idea of being a Division I athlete,” can cause athletes to miss great opportunities for growth athletically and competitively at the often-overlooked Division III level.
Talbot spent time coaching at Amherst University, a Division III university in Boston. This university largely serves as a platform for potential coaching candidates to expand their portfolios, allowing them a better chance of landing a more desirable coaching job.
“Amherst is set up with two full time assistant coaches,” Talbot said. “One can go there to get there first years under their belt, and then they can move on.”
After getting these important first years of experience, Talbot decided that the University of Oklahoma was right for him. He points to a piece of advice that he received from a coach at the University.
“I was ready to go to LSU,” he said. “I had a call set up with the coach there, and he was very honest with me in a way that I needed. I mainly remember him pointing out that they were doing a favor for me, not me doing a favor for them.”
However, Talbot noticed that there were striking features about Division I that were different from anything he had experienced at the Division III level.
“The thing that really sets it apart is the time commitment,” Talbot said. “On a Thursday morning, we’re on a bus, heading to the airport. We get to the meet, do a little bit of a pre-meet, and then hang out in New York City. Friday and Saturday we have a meet. Sunday comes around, and the team is right back on a plane.”
Another important aspect of the life of a student-athlete is the fact that the student must learn to balance school and athletics. Talbot recognizes the striking contrast between the Divisions.
“As a Division III athlete, you might miss three days of class a year,” he said. “As a Division I athlete, you could possibly miss three days of class in any given week. Even in the smaller Division I conferences, it is easy to see this across the board. The demand at those schools is large, whereas here at Millikin, it’s maybe two hours a day dedicated to track.”
Colin Griffin, a sophomore sprints captain for Millikin, recognizes the importance of having a life apart from athletics that may not be available to Division I athletes.
“I really enjoy Division III because as a runner, you can put as much or as little effort into it as you want to,” he said. “But the more effort you put into it, the better results you will see. Division III still leaves room to excel in classes and have a social life as well.”
Craycraft, before settling in Decatur as head track coach, ran Division I track and field at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia before finishing his collegiate career at the University of North Carolina.
He decided to leave St. Joseph’s because the college did not provide the diversity that he was looking for.
“No knock or disrespect to St. Joseph’s,” he said. “The population that attended the university was very homogenous. Everybody was from similar backgrounds, and that is not what I wanted out of college. When I got to Carolina, it was a big, eye-widening experience. I could walk down hallways and see names of athletes that I had known my entire life.”
Craycraft notes that although the size and scale of North Carolina are extremely different from each other, there are some surprising similarities between the universities.
“The thing that I love about Millikin as an institution, and this is always going to be extremely important to me, is that we help and work with people that come from every end of the spectrum,” he said. “We bring them together and find commonalities, creating a team together that they may never have had otherwise.
“Maybe there are two teammates who can’t relate in the music that they listen to or the way that they talk,” Craycraft said. “At the end of the day, they could be teammates handing a baton to each other in a race.”
Although there is not a huge difference culturally between the two Divisions, he admits that there is a large difference competitively between Division I and III.
“To make nationals for Division I in the 800, you need to be in the 1:43 to 1:47 range,” he said. “In Division III, you must be in the 1:50 to 1:53 range. But what is the major difference? I would say that it is the depth at of the top one percent that truly sets the Divisions apart.”
In Division III, it is extremely common for one or two runners to be at the top of the marks, well ahead of the pack. However, when one reaches the Division I level, there are many more runners consistently running top times throughout the nation.
This personal aspect of Millikin is what Craycraft believes makes the university such an enticing place to call home. Although becoming a Division I athlete is a major accomplishment, both coaches warn against athletes being swept up by the dream of becoming an athlete on that level, because it could cause that athlete to miss huge opportunities to flourish at the Division III level.