One might assume that only Division I soccer teams would play in a 3,500-seat stadium, and that junior varsity teams are for high schools only. Stevenson University and its expanding Division III athletic programs prove those assumptions wrong.
In fact, the JV program at Stevenson has helped the soccer team take off, head men's coach John Plevyak said.
"We do have very successful club teams, but this model appeals to students because it's a higher level of play," he said. "They get the same coaches and uniforms as the varsity team, and there's a better sense of commitment and belonging, because it's an everyday thing. They play in the stadium, and they're here every day. It also leads to a better rate of retention, which is crucial."
Junior varsity athletics at Stevenson started with the lacrosse team, Plevyak said, and the model spread to other sports. Plevyak started the JV soccer team four years ago and followed the lacrosse program's model, but he tweaked the system and turned it into his own because of the differences between the sports, he said.
The JV soccer team plays against local community colleges in what Plevyak described as independent play, because there's no official conference for that level of play. Most JV athletes have an opportunity to participate in at least one varsity game during the season, as well.
Because of the JV program, for the last two years, Stevenson has put more than 50 men's soccer players in uniform. By Plevyak's estimation, that makes it one of the largest men's soccer programs in college sports.
"I don't even know of any who have numbers in the 40s," Plevyak said. "Most college rosters have between 26 and 32 kids. A lot of it is committing the resources to it. It's not super expensive to have a JV team, but you still have to pay for the buses and uniforms, and for lunch and whatnot. There is a price to it."
That price is one the Stevenson administration has been willing to pay, and Plevyak said it was a large part of the vision Kevin Manning, the university's president, had for the athletic department as a whole.
"The man's a genius," Plevyak said. "The line that he used when recruiting me to come here -- the hook was, 'You'll be able to give your athletes a Division I experience at the Division III level.' What he meant by that was the facilities and so on. I wanted the challenge of building a program essentially from scratch, but I also believed him. And that's what our kids are getting now at this stadium with these facilities."
Plevyak said he was not only looking forward to continuing his success at Stevenson through the JV program, but had also been contacted by other Division III schools for information about how to start their own. The model works well at the Division III level, Plevyak said, because those teams are not allowed to have athletic scholarships, the way D-I or D-II schools do, and the idea is catching on quickly.
"I have schools who once told me that I was crazy to start something like this who now are following the model themselves," Plevyak said, "and it's because it works. It's really a tribute to the administration, that they would think outside the box like this and push for it and fund it. I wasn't interested in doing it if it wasn't going to be first-class. Otherwise, you've got unhappy kids and unhappy parents, and it's a distraction and a waste of everyone's time. But it's been awesome."