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DI SAAC weighs in on rules changes

By Michelle Brutlag Hosick

As the Rules Working Group continues its review of the Division I manual, the student-athletes on the national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee are paying close attention.  At every quarterly meeting they vet the concepts from their perspective and the perspective of their peers across the country.

They’ve developed early positions on some topics and will provide those positions to the Rules Group. Their biggest message for the administrators, coaches and presidents on that body? Thank you for listening.

“Our voices are being heard. The NCAA cares about our input and is actually taking that into consideration before they finalize anything,” said Chalonda Goodman, a track and field student-athlete at Texas. “I feel like that’s the most important thing for student-athletes.”

Maddie Salamone, a lacrosse student-athlete at Duke University and vice-chair of the 31-member national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, wants to be sure that sentiment continues, and that members of the SAAC take seriously their responsibility to gather input from peers.

“We want to be in the loop as much as possible, and we are making a big push to increase our communication (to other student-athletes),” she said. “Right now, we’re pleased with (the rules group) opening up the legislation to allow for more flexibility for student-athletes.”

Georgia football student-athlete Christian Conley agreed that student-athletes are satisfied with the way the rules group is progressing.

“We as a committee definitely agreed that there are some rules that are over-the-top,” Conley said. “We have confidence in the way the NCAA is handling it, and we are thankful they are allowing us input as student-athletes.”

“Our voices are being heard. The NCAA cares about our input and is actually taking that into consideration before they finalize anything. I feel like that’s the most important thing for student-athletes.”

— Chalonda Goodman, a track and field student-athlete at Texas

Recruiting

In the past, the national SAAC has voiced strong opinions on changes to recruiting rules. In 2007, the student-athletes were successful in convincing administrators to prohibit coaches from text-messaging recruits, and were instrumental in preventing an override of that legislation. As the years passed, attitudes toward the quick-hit form of communication evolved. As the membership considers deregulating recruiting contacts, the student-athletes on SAAC (none of which were on the committee in 2007), are supportive – to a point.

“In the sport of football, allowing text-messaging would open up whole new venues for coaches to contact recruits. A lot of communication comes through text messages now. It could be a good thing,” Conley said. “But we want to keep the student-athlete’s best interests in mind. There should be a little bit of breathing room so they’re not badgered all the time. It has the potential to be overwhelming.”

Conley acknowledged that coaches probably won’t bombard recruits with texts if they believe it could backfire, but said there’s no real way to regulate that. For their part, he believes some recruits will be intimidated enough by coaches that they won’t be able to say “stop.”

“It will be a risk we take,” he said.

SAAC Chair Eugene Daniels, a former football player at Colorado State, said coaches have lives to live as well, and that life-work balance issues still need to be worked out.  The student-athletes believe phone calls are more invasive than text messages and should be regulated more strongly. The SAAC is in favor of allowing contact with recruits starting July 1 following the student’s sophomore year in high school. The current proposal has a June 15 date.

Academics

The SAAC is also supportive of strengthening the academic rules and regulations, including strengthening progress-toward-degree requirements. Salamone said the group wants to reinforce the idea that “student” comes before “athlete.”

“It’s funny, I think people expect us to be against (stronger academic requirements), but I think we can be the hardest on ourselves and have the highest expectations. We push ourselves on the field, but we also push ourselves in the classroom,” she said. “We do want to perform well in the classroom, and we think stronger standards are not unreasonable.”

The group also discussed the idea of creating academic requirements for student-athletes in some sports to transfer and play immediately. Conley noted the dangers of allowing student-athletes in all sports to play immediately upon transfer, but supported the addition of an academic component.

“We don’t want to broaden it necessarily because there will be a lot of team-swapping by a lot of people in certain sports,” he said. “In smaller sports, there should be more leeway because they are usually transferring not because they want to play but because of personal preference and opportunities at another university. If they have the right grades and are on top of things academically, they shouldn’t be hampered by a rule.”

Meals

Some administrators have longed to eliminate rules that tell schools what, when, where and how they can feed their student-athletes. The student-athletes are interested in that topic as well. They support a deregulation of meals legislation and want to include all student-athletes, not just those on scholarship.

“I’ve always felt uncomfortable personally about walk-ons not being able to eat the same thing when they are working as hard if not harder then we (scholarship athletes) are,” Daniels said. “They also have to find a way to pay for school. We think we should feed everybody.”

Daniels acknowledged the issues such a plan would create between schools at different resource levels, but said the student-athletes ended up in much the same place as the rules working group: The less-resourced schools are already at a recruiting disadvantage because they have fewer resources in other areas, not just meals.

“It’s not about me going on my official visit and seeing that the team gets steak and lobster before a game. That’s not what makes my decision for me,” he said.

Daniels said the SAAC did not support providing cash instead of a meal because student-athletes don’t always make the best nutritional decisions when provided cash instead of food.

“I’m not going to spend that whole $15 on a meal. I’ll get the McDonald’s dollar menu, which doesn’t provide enough nutrition,” he said.

Future Discussions

The SAAC will continue to discuss the concepts and legislative proposals coming out of the Rules Working Group. The group has a webinar set in September, after which they will continue to seek the feedback of student-athletes within their conferences.

They will examine each proposal broadly from the perspective of how it benefits the majority of student-athletes. The SAAC’s next in-person meeting will be in November in Indianapolis.