Former CMS tennis champ hopes to end the ‘DI or bust’ mentality with ‘D3toPro’ podcast

Skyler Butts CM ’16 highlights the stories of professional athletes who came from D3 backgrounds in his podcast “D3toPro.” (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Leaving the familiarity of a sunny Claremont tennis court behind, Skyler Butts CM ’16 has since settled into much tighter quarters: a personal recording booth. 

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps tennis alum is now responsible for bouncing off questions and responses with guests on “D3toPro,” a podcast that draws out the unique stories of professional athletes who come from Division III collegiate athletics backgrounds, from right in Claremont to across the globe.

Creating this podcast seemed unlikely to Butts just a couple of years ago, following his record-breaking career in the CMS tennis program. 

“Not picking up a racket pretty much the whole summer after I graduated, I spent the first year assistant coaching at CMS while dabbling in some tournaments, trying to get my feet wet and understand the professional system,” Butts said. “Then, in 2017, because I’m a permanent resident in Hong Kong, I moved [to Hong Kong] to train with the national team, participating in the Davis Cup, where you can represent your country.” 

After departing from the Hong Kong national team in the fall of 2018, Butts’ professional career was turbulent, filled with numerous highs and lows, he said. He ultimately retired from competition just a few months ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged — settling into quarantine “just seemed like a good transition point” to Butts.

Having been an active podcast listener throughout the duration of his athletic career, Butts decided to create his own. 

“[The idea] kind of grew out of a bunch of questions I was asking myself about what I was doing [after] pursuing my professional tennis career,” Butts said. “From there, I thought of how there are probably a lot of other DIII professional athletes that would like to have their say on what it’s like to make the transition from DIII to playing professional.”

In making the show, Butts aimed to unveil the peculiarities behind the DIII athletics experience, debunking common misconceptions he felt were present among athletes.

“I think we get a little caught up with Division I as the only way that you can kind of improve and really grow as an athlete,” he said. “The podcast was really becoming about lifting those barriers and shining a light on what DIII athletics has to offer.”

And what does it offer? In Butts’ book, “there’s nothing quite like it.” Citing Pomona-Pitzer basketball’s Daniel Rosenbaum PO ’19 as an example, the idea that DIII athletics can’t take athletes to the professional leagues is antiquated, he said. 

“You’re with these guys — like in Daniel Rosenbaum’s case — that have been playing with guys in the NBA, and you’re just like, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” he said. “So it was really about sharing those stories … [and] lifting those barriers up without saying, ‘Oh, I play DIII. What can I accomplish?’ versus ‘Oh, I play DI, and I really can take a run at this pro thing.’” 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Covering his first athletes, however, was a tough obstacle for Butts to conquer. 

“I started with creating a blog, which was more comfortable for me. I generally didn’t go out there and promote myself; it was mostly anonymous,” he said. “It then became a personal challenge to get my voice out there, since I have a lot of anxiety before I talk to new people.” 

Despite these concerns, Butts revealed how his DIII athletic experiences help him relate to what his guests are saying on a deeper level, allowing him to be more comfortable during interviews. 

“We kind of understand each other immediately. There’s this immediate connection that we can bond over, which makes the conversation flow more easily,” Butts said.

Having already covered 20 athletes from a variety of backgrounds over this year, including the aforementioned Rosenbaum, Butts said these interviews have been humbling experiences. 

“It’s traditionally not something that people think of — how there are hundreds of DIII athletes that have gone on to pursue their sport in some capacity,” Butts said. “I wouldn’t have known, had I not done it myself and really started to dig into the archives of what has been accomplished by these athletes.”

Ultimately, Butts aims to spread his content to up-and-coming student-athletes and get the word out that there are opportunities other than what he calls “DI or bust.”

“I hope sharing the stories on the podcast can normalize giving future DIII athletes a shot at competing post-college in the pros,” Butts said.

The D3toPro podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and has an Instagram account, @d3topro.

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