It's not readily apparent on the court, the diamond, the bench, or in the training room, but Marshalltown Community College women's athletes have been competing at a disadvantage in relation to their male peers.
While the school has offered equal treatment in scheduling, use of facilities, travel, meal money and more, a discrepancy in scholarship opportunities has kept the Tiger women a step or two behind.
Dan Huntley and the MCC administration believes it's time for change.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
Marshalltown Community College freshmen Miranda Smith, right, and McKenna Hotopp take turns addressing the audience in a press conference at the MCC Student Union Wednesday announcing the transition of MCC women’s sports from NJCAA Division II to Division I. Smith is a member of the volleyball team, while Hotopp competes on the softball squad. The change takes effect in the fall of 2014.
The MCC Director of Athletics and Student Life announced Wednesday that the Tigers women's athletic programs will move up in sport sponsorship from National Junior College Athletics Association Division II to Division I - the same level as the MCC men's teams - starting in the fall of 2014.
"We concluded through a process that there was not equal treatment of our male and female student-athletes in regard to the level of sport sponsorship and how scholarship money is provided to our female student-athletes," said Huntley in a press conference at the MCC Student Union. "Today I stand here in favor of fair and equitable treatment of our female student-athletes, they're worth it."
Huntley was joined onstage by all six MCC men's and women's head coaches, MCC Provost Dr. Robin Lilienthal and Iowa Community College Athletic Commissioner Thom McDonald.
The move from D-II to D-I allows a school to offer athletically-related financial aid in the form of room and board, and transportation to and from an institution once a year. Those come in addition to the Division II coverage of aid for tuition, fees and textbooks.
The change will pay major dividends in recruiting - both now and in the athlete's future.
The scholarships open doors to a wider-range of student-athletes that otherwise couldn't afford tuition, while also helping raising their level of competition to better their chances in advancing to the next level.
"It's a significant impact for those players because basically you're telling them that they're going to be playing more competitive teams and players to prepare them for a four-year school, which they'll be attending after Marshalltown," said MCC women's basketball coach Steve Garber. "It prepares them a little bit more over the long haul and is something you want to stress in recruiting. It broadens your ability to recruit more players from a larger area of the United States."
Though Garber emphasized the first priority is securing the commitment of more student-athletes here in Iowa, and the advancement to Division I should only help.
MCC is now only the third community college in Iowa to sponsor all their athletic programs at the D-I level joining Iowa Western and Indian Hills Community College.
Though in terms of the Tigers' turf, they now own a decisive advantage over a pair of their top competitors - Des Moines Area Community College and Kirkwood Community College.
"It provides an exciting opportunity to be different in central Iowa compared to DMACC and Kirkwood," said MCC volleyball coach Chris Brees. "I hope that keeps our local kids in our backyard more than venturing off. Also, non-locally it helps if there's a good international student that can help contribute to the program. Generally those athletes are looking for money to pay for housing that we couldn't offer before."
Two of MCC's current local freshmen - Marshalltown's Miranda Smith (volleyball) and West Marshall's McKenna Hotopp (softball) - also spoke on stage in support of the decision and the excitement of facing stronger and more varied competition.
That wider range also extends to MCC's recruiting trail as Huntley named three of the men's recent standouts - basketball's Tyler Brown (a two-time NJCAA Division I All-American) and Will Clyburn (2012-13 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year at Iowa State) along with soccer NJCAA Division I All-American Javier Lopez, who likely would have chosen a different path if not for the aid opportunities the Tigers could offer.
"There's no way we get those kids or kids like them if we don't have the opportunity to give out housing," said Huntley. "Now we have the opportunity to do that with our women's sports and we expect that we're going to get some of those high-end kids that we haven't been able to get in the past."
The NJCAA allows members to choose their level of sport sponsorship every two years with the most recent opportunity coming just before Huntley started his tenure in January 2012. It was something he was interested in addressing soon after he started and that process began through talks with faculty and coaches. In particular, Huntley wanted to hear the viewpoint of each men's coach and why they valued the Division I experience.
Those statements - combined with each program's success - were more than enough to confirm a rise in sponsorship was the best-case scenario rather than lowering the men's programs to balance the playing field.
"Our coaches are passionate, they're having success and they're helping our student-athletes develop academically and athletically to achieve their goals of playing beyond our institution," said Huntley.
The main transition facing the Tiger women in their rise in sponsorship is working out their schedule of opponents said Huntley, who is confident his coaches and the ICCAC will handle the change smoothly.
MCC's committee looked at the scheduling and budgets of ICCAC Region XI along with the surrounding regions of 4, 6, 13, 16 and 24 to "ensure that we have the ability to have a good athletic schedule" concerning competition and costs under the school's current funding model said Huntley.
The women's basketball team will join Northeast Community College (Neb.) and Iowa Western next season and will switch from playing 16 scheduled conference games in an eight-team conference to four.
The volleyball squad exits the 11-team ICCAC Division II conference to align with Iowa Western and Indian Hills. MCC will play its last season in Division II softball this spring before joining Indian Hills, Iowa Western, Muscatine and Southeastern in 2015.
While Huntley said the school is excited to build new rivalries with institutions in neighboring states and regions, their showdowns with the current crop of Division II teams will remain a staple on their schedule.
Whether it's balancing out the schedule or adapting to more competitive play, Huntley believes any early hurdles will be well worth it down the road.
"We're ready to face the challenges in front of us but feel the positive results of this decision will stand tall for the future of Marshalltown Community College athletics."