The Emerging USCAA: A growing option forsmall colleges in the United States
Contributions from Kevin Wegman & Matthew Simms (USCAA) and Dr. Robert Case, PhD (Old Dominion University)
There are 351 institutions that compete in NCAA Division I basketball in the United States. If asked to name those institutions, you would probably spout out a list a mile long of universities with FBS football programs. There are only 126 of them.
Between the NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and NAIA (many consisting of smaller institutions), there are over 1,000 institutions in the United States alone. Add in junior colleges, institutions who belong solely to the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association, and a long list of independent institutions, it is clear that small colleges in our country significantly outnumber those that we see play each week on television.
Each of these small colleges competes for enrollment and tuition dollars, seeking students that they can recruit and retain. Many try to set themselves apart by way of athletic opportunities. For many small colleges, the battle of competing against larger institutions with more significant resources is overwhelming. With more than 250 institutions competing in each division of the NCAA and NAIA, the opportunity for consistent post-season play and recognition is minimal. In the recruiting process, the opportunity to publicize these accomplishments can make a big difference.
The United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) helps to fill a void in intercollegiate athletics. The USCAA was formed in 2001, but has a history that dates back to the 1960s. It was then that ten small colleges met in Charleston, West Virginia to form an organization called the National Little College Athletic Association (later changed to National Small College Athletic Association), as a way to have a national basketball tournament for smaller post-secondary institutions.
The mission of the USCAA is to provide quality athletic competition at a national level for student-athletes who attend small colleges with enrollments less than 3,000 students. The USCAA provides opportunities for small colleges to compete on an equal competitive basis with schools of similar size and athletic budgets. This includes conducting national championships, selecting All-American teams, honoring scholar athletes, providing compliance services, and overseeing eligibility standards for USCAA member schools.
The organization, which hosts National Championships in twelve sports, has seen ebbs and flows in membership and organizational structure during its existence. However, since 2006 they have made monumental gains in quality of tournaments and membership, growing from 42 member colleges then to almost 90 in 2013. “Our growth and success are a testament to our membership,” states Chief Operating Officer Matthew Simms. “For the past eight years, our founding members and new members alike have joined with us to improve the perception of quality of small college institutions and their athletic departments. Additionally, they have worked to ensure that the quality of our tournaments continue to improve.”
The quality of events certainly has improved. Five years ago the USCAA sought to develop a premier event in basketball, its driver for financial success. The association brought together each of its four basketball tournaments (Men’s and Women’s Division I and Division II), hosted at one site, to create a great atmosphere and generate significant economic impact for a region who could re-invest in the USCAA. Today, that event features 34 teams competing for four championships. The event is first-class, housed at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a five-diamond resort in western Pennsylvania whose rooms usually cost four to five times what USCAA teams are charged. The tournament is also coupled with a county-wide festival to provide economic impact and give back to the community.
One of the most important and unique strengths of the USCAA, however, relates to its diversity of membership. The USCAA accepts members with unique organizational structures and educational missions. For example, some USCAA member schools are 2-year private or vocational colleges. Other members are 3-year trade or apprentice schools. Many members are 4-year public colleges and others are 4-year Bible Colleges. The USCAA works cooperatively to ensure that all institutions have a place that they can compete. The association even has a religious policy wherein they strive to schedule championships to accommodate religious observances, including that of Seventh Day Adventists who cannot compete from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
No other national athletic organization or association has such a variety of member schools with different backgrounds and organizational structures. The defining and common thread of the USCAA is that members are from small colleges who are seeking to participate in national championships while complying with eligibility rules and standards. USCAA member institutions may hold dual membership in other associations such as the NCAA, NAIA, and the National Christian Athletic Association. The USCAA does not intend on competing against other national organizations for members. Instead, they provide cost effective opportunities for those institutions and their student athletes to compete and be recognized.
The USCAA is quickly emerging as a strategic choice for small colleges, as they provide quality service and the opportunity for all stakeholders to meet their objectives. For coaches and administrators, it is an opportunity to tell prospective student athletes that they have a greater opportunity of competing for a championship or receiving student athlete honors. The association serves to meet the varying goals of member institutions and their athletes. “Many schools have found that the USCAA serves as an excellent transition step as they grow their athletic program,” adds Simms. “Institutions that hold dual membership recognize the opportunities for postseason play and student-athlete recognition that the USCAA provides.” Still, the majority of members identify with the mission of the USCAA and realize that membership in an association is a valuable and worthwhile long-term strategy for their college in terms of athletic governance.
Just as members of the NAIA participate in “Champions of Character” and NCCAA members participate in service and mission oriented work, members of the USCAA are encouraged to be ambassadors in their communities. The USCAA website regularly recognizes the outstanding role that member colleges play through outreach and community service. Additionally, the USCAA just launched a program called “Fitness Focus,” which they publicize on their website. This year marks the first phase of the community outreach project, which includes a bi-weekly publication on health, nutrition, and exercise that lead to maximum athletic performance. Phase II and III of the project, which will roll out in 2014, will place USCAA members in front of grade school children to promote healthy lifestyles and nutrition for the athlete.
As the USCAA continues to grow and develop, it is clear that their primary mission will be to provide athletic opportunities and a level playing field for small college athletes. Administrators of the USCAA are committed to providing educational opportunities for future sport administrators as well. During the past five years, a number of undergraduate and graduate sport management students from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maine, and New York colleges have completed internships and graduate assistantships with the USCAA’s national office.
The future certainly looks bright for small college athletic programs across the country thanks to the USCAA. For more information about the USCAA, please go to www.theuscaa
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