Very Small Colleges Form New Association

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.2, February/March 2002,

More than 40 of the nation's smallest two- and four-year colleges have formed a new group to coordinate their intercollegiate sports programs and hold season-ending national championships.

The United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) opened for business July 1 with 15 members, but by the fall had 43, according to Commissioner Dave Schmidt. It grew out of the remnants of the National Small College Athletic Association (NSCAA), a 35-year-old organization that has shut down.

The USCAA bills itself as a low-cost, low-fuss option for colleges that want some sort of national affiliation for their athletics programs but for whom the NAIA or NCAA Division III are too pricey or too complicated to join. It is also an option for colleges that are already in any of the larger associations.

Dues are just $750 a year, and athlete-eligibility guidelines are stripped down to accommodate the widely varying missions of member schools, whose enrollments must be 1,500 or less (although larger institutions with bare-bones sports programs may be admitted by acclamation). Many members offer a limited number of athletic scholarships.

Sponsored sports include cross country, soccer, basketball, golf, and tennis (for both men and women), baseball, softball, women's volleyball, and two divisions of men's and women's basketball: USCAA Division I comprises larger schools and those that give athletic financial aid, and Division II is for smaller institutions, including many Bible colleges and two-year schools.

This fall, the USCAA held its first series of national championships in cross country, soccer, and volleyball. Other services include player-of-the-week and academic awards, statistics collection, daily e-mail updates for athletic directors, and an open-date Web-site bulletin board.

The association doesn't pay for travel to the national competitions, but it has deals with an airline and a car rental company for member discounts, and it's in the process of lining up a ball contract. The USCAA doesn't seek to compete with the larger associations, only to help small colleges enhance their athletic programs, Schmidt says.

"Some schools are facing budget crunches, rule changes, or can't get into a conference within an association," Schmidt says. "So they're starting to look at us."

At Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, Wis., for example, administrators had considered joining the NAIA for its single intercollegiate sport, women's basketball, says Athletic Director Larry Pruess. But the NAIA dues would be about $3,000 and joining would necessitate naming a faculty representative and meeting various other requirements.

"There are all kinds of hoops to jump through in that type of organization," Pruess says. "We don't get that carried away. I'm the athletic director, the director of student housing, and the adviser to our student government. I can't focus 100 percent of my time on any one issue. The USCAA provides a simple national affiliation opportunity."

At Central Maine Technical College, a two-year community college with five intercollegiate teams, USCAA rules match the school's philosophy on participation, says Athletic Director and Men's Basketball Coach Dave Gonyea. The National Junior College Athletic Association's two-year eligibility limit conflicts with the college's belief that students who stretch their degree programs out over three or four years should be allowed to keep playing.

"In the USCAA, a student-athlete has four years of eligibility," Gonyea says.

Kansas Wesleyan University is among several schools maintaining dual membership in both the USCAA and either the NAIA (in its case) or NCAA Division III. Athletic Director and Men's Basketball Coach Jerry Jones says KWU's football program plays other NAIA schools, while the USCAA offers a "second-chance opportunity" for postseason national competition in other sports.

"The small colleges don't have anything like the NIT," Jones says, referring to NCAA Division I basketball's National Invitational Tournament. "That's essentially what the USCAA offers."

Gonyea saw the value of national-level competition last spring, when Central Maine hosted the 2001 NSCAA men's basketball tournament. Its gym was full and decked in special banners, and games were carried on local cable television. But best of all was the experience for the players, Gonyea says.

"We had a team from San Antonio, Texas, here, and they had never seen snow before. They were outside after the games playing in the snow, having a ball," he says. "It was awesome to see that. Our kids also developed relationships with some of the kids on the other teams and, even after it's all over, they are e-mailing each other and developing longer-lasting friendships."

The USCAA has filed incorporation papers in Ohio seeking non-profit status. It plans its first national basketball championships this winter, and hopes to add members and sports, including football, Schmidt says.

The United States Collegiate Athletic Association's Web site is at