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Pure love of sports fuels student athletes in Division III

It’s no secret college sports are big business. College football alone recorded more than $3.4 billion. That’s a hair less than the gross domestic product of the entire nation of Barbados.

It’s little wonder, then, that many folks are cynical about college sports. Some athletes don’t even pretend to be students. There’s one controversy after another, from recruiting and pay-to-play violations to players leaving after a few seasons for the pros.

There is a place, though, where college athletics are untainted. It’s Division III, some 440 colleges and universities nationwide where competition and tradition are just as fierce as bigger universities, but student athletes play for a novel motivation: The love of the game.

“Division III athletics is the purest form of intercollegiate competition,” according to Psychology Today.

“Student-athletes are truly students first. Players are talented, competitive, and driven, but also know that they are in school to pursue an education, prepare for a career, and to develop socially, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.”

NCAA regulations bar student-athletes from receiving athletic scholarships, but that doesn’t mean they don’t receive help. Division III colleges offer grants and other financial aid packages, so students often end up with a large portion of their tuition paid.

That’s particularly true at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities, where more than 95 percent of students receive aid – from leadership scholarships to academic fellowships to educational grants. That brings the costs of a world-class college within reach — a priceless education that is affordable.

And the rivalries, talent and level of competition at Division III? That’s the stuff of legend, especially among the seven Michigan colleges in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

Since 1990, the schools have won 18 Division III national titles. And few streaks in all of sports are as impressive as the Kalamazoo College men’s tennis team, which has won or shared every division championship since 1936, while Calvin College’s men’s cross country has won 21 straight division titles.

Calvin College and Hope College are such bitter foes that ESPN recently named it one of college basketball’s greatest rivalries. Kalamazoo College and Olivet College also have a deep rivalry that dates back decades.

College athletics is just one difference between big public institutions and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

All share a commitment to helping students succeed by following their own path. The colleges are smaller and emphasize community over crowds. Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.