.- After years of debate, and a twenty-year hiatus, Franciscan University of Steubenville recently announced that they would apply to be a division III member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The Board of Trustees, who made the decision in February, and University President, Fr. Terrance Henry T.O.R., see the membership as a way to advance the University’s mission of spreading the Gospel.
Fr. Henry noted that the University’s existing club sports programs “have emphasized character development ahead of win-loss records and helped develop Christian values in student athletes both on and off the field, but students have shown a desire for a higher level of athletic competition and for the evangelistic opportunities NCAA participation would bring."
Ultimately, the school will compete in men's and women's basketball, men's baseball, men's and women's soccer, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's cross country, and women's volleyball.
Added Father Henry, "Because our sports program flows out of our vibrant Catholic mission, Franciscan University is in a unique position to respond to the Holy Father's call for the new evangelization in the athletic arena."
In January, CNA reported on Pope John Paul II’s consideration of sports as a “worthwhile educational instrument, especially for the young generations.”
The University noted that they have been in contact with Rev. Kevin Lixey LC, who directs the Vatican-based Office for Church and Sports, and that he “applauds the integration of sports and spirituality that has developed over the past two decades at the University.”
Fr. Lixey stated that the Church needs to “let people know that there are sportsmen who are also virtuous." The Church, he says, "is called upon without doubt to pay attention to sports, which certainly can be considered one of the nerve centers of contemporary culture and one of the frontiers for new evangelization."
Christopher Ledyard, Franciscan University’s Athletic Director said that NCAA membership would allow “Franciscan to provide a home to the serious Catholic student athlete who understands their faith in the context of athletics and desires to play in a system that will provide the discipline necessary for growth."
Currently, over half of the student body-over 1,000 students-participates in some kind of sport at the school--either club sports or intramurals.
Under the division III status, Franciscan University would not be able to recruit, nor offer scholarships for student athletes. Many believe that this fact will largely deter potential students who are only interested in athletics, not the overall mission of the school.