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By Gary Brown
SAN ANTONIO – After a year of thorough, thoughtful and at times contentious debate, Division III delegates at Saturday’s NCAA Convention business session agreed to:
Those three decisions garnered the most discussion during a 90-minute voting session in which delegates considered 14 legislative items, adopting 11 proposals (one that was amended) and defeating one. Two were withdrawn.
Other significant adoptions included the creation of a Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship beginning in 2012 and a delineation of legislative oversight between the Presidents and Management Councils.
The proposal that was defeated would have allowed institutions an unlimited number of student-athletes to dress, participate in warm-ups and be in the bench area for an NCAA championship contest (in all sports but football). While that was hotly debated, delegates preferred a resolution from the Presidents Council to charge the Division III Championships Committee with determining the appropriate allowances for championships beginning next fall.
Among the most rigorous debates at Saturday’s business session came early in the agenda with Proposal No. 4, which by its adoption allows schools to designate money a student-athlete earns via fundraising toward that student-athlete’s actual and necessary expenses for the activity or item in question.
The debate on the Convention floor resembled the many exchanges throughout the year within the governance structure and membership, with supporters citing institutional autonomy and flexibility, and opponents cautioning against compromising the team spirit of college sports.
Presidents Council members were among those opposed.
Jack Ohle from Gustavus Adolphus said supporting the proposal would put institutions in a vulnerable position regarding the management of these fundraising efforts.
“The current legislation makes it clear that any funds raised for an institutional fundraiser must go to the team or institution generally,” he said. “Therefore, the funds are controlled by the institution. This proposal confuses who is in control of these funds by increasing pressure on schools to designate funds to specific student-athletes, thereby shifting control to others.”
The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee strongly endorsed the proposal, citing benefits to individual student-athletes in different socioeconomic circumstances and the fact that the legislation makes the practice permissive, not required.
SAAC members enjoyed ample support from the floor, too.
Marywood Athletics Director Mary Jo Gunning said the proposal gives institutions the ability to allow student-athletes to benefit directly from their own efforts. “This would not make fundraising a requirement for participation,” she said.
Montclair State AD Holly Gera said the process of “earmarking” is really a matter of record keeping, and that there were enough guidelines in the proposal to preserve the spirit of amateurism.
Joe Onderko, commissioner of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, said while members appreciated the Presidents Council’s thoughtful consideration, the proposal was “common sense legislation” and that no competitive advantage could be gained from its passage.
“It is permissive in both intent and application,” he said.
Gustavus President Ohle said the Council’s opposition was not meant as a reaction against the SAAC. “We heard from the student-athletes, and it is not against them that we make this decision,” he said. “But it is an institutional decision that presidents feel strongly about. There appears to be no ‘crisis’ to change the rules in a manner that will cause increased pressure on individual student-athletes, additional compliance monitoring and confusion, and step away from our team focus.”
In the end, though, the motion carried by a 281-187-4 count.
SAAC members also favored Convention Proposal No. 7, which would have allowed certified strength and conditioning personnel to conduct voluntary workouts for student-athletes year-round. However, they had to settle for access only during the academic year.
That’s because delegates supported a Presidents Council-sponsored amendment that produced a compromise of sorts to give student-athletes more access but protect their free time during the summer.
Kathy Owens, president at Gwenydd-Mercy and a member of the Presidents Council, said the amendment reinforces the principle of “proportion,” which is a key attribute of Division III. “It balances student-athletes’ desire for proper training against the potential increased pressure on student-athletes to participate in voluntary workouts year-round,” she said.
SAAC members opposed the amendment because they felt it disadvantaged fall-sport athletes in their off-season preparations.
But the amendment passed, 303-164-5. (A motion to refer the entire proposal to committee for further clarification of “nationally recognized” was defeated, 134-324-11.)
The vote on the proposal as amended was just as decisive, with adoption by a 339-128-3 margin.
Delegates also debated the question of bench size. No one in the ballroom seemed to disagree that the current appropriations need review, but there was stern disagreement on the best way to resolve it.
The Presidents Council strongly preferred its resolution to ask the Championships Committee to study the appropriate squad, travel and bench limits for championship competition. The study and any resultant policy changes would be complete by July 1 and would not change current legislation or policy.
But sponsors of Proposal No. 10 (the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, the Empire 8 and the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association) wanted institutional autonomy to rule right away.
The problem with that approach for some delegates was that Proposal No. 10 didn’t include football (the Empire 8 and MIAA had withdrawn Proposal No. 9 addressing all sports). But the overriding concern from the floor was with the “unlimited” nature of the proposal and with the inequities it could produce.
“None of us wants to tell a student-athlete who has practiced all season that NCAA policy prohibits him or her from sitting with their team during the championship, but neither do we want to sit across from a team at those championships that have significantly more student-athletes in uniform,” said Emory Athletics Director Tim Downes, who sits on both the Management Council and Championships Committee.
Championships Committee chair Ira Zeff, the AD at Nebraska Wesleyan, said, “The membership would never stand for a rule that allows the home team 40 people on the bench and the visitors 25. Proposal 10 does that.”
The resolution, which was adopted by an overwhelming 456-8-2 margin, could result in policy changes that affect championships as early as next fall.
Click here for a summary of all legislative votes at the January 15 business session.