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DII alters conference membership regulations, liberalizes recruiting legislation

By David Pickle

The Division II membership demonstrated its flexibility for new ways of doing business during its Convention business session Saturday – and it did so without a twist.

The strong consensus over Division II legislation and the relatively small number of proposals led to a speedy business session. The Convention finale opened at 8 a.m. and adjourned at 10:18 a.m.

Six new members joined the Division II Management Council for its post-Convention meeting. They are Anita Barker, senior woman administrator at Cal State Chico; Joseph “Chip” Polak, director of athletics at Southern New Hampshire; Karen Strommesenior woman administrator at Minnesota Duluth; Kathleen Heitzmansenior woman administrator at Bloomsburg (Pa.); Denisha Hendricksdirector of athletics at Kentucky State; and Larry Marfise, director of athletics at Tampa.

Delegates approved 16 legislative proposals, all sponsored by the Division II Presidents Council, by large margins and with a minimum of debate.

Though there was little controversy at the end, that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the primary changes. As a result of the Convention’s actions, regulations affecting recruiting and membership were changed in ways that will affect Division II for years to come.

The new recruiting provisions (Nos. 2012-11, 12 and 13) will provide a common start date for all in-person, telephonic and electronic forms of contact – June 15 before a prospect’s junior year of high school. In addition, there will be no restrictions on the number of contacts, other than in cases where contact is prohibited by Division II recruiting calendars.

Proponents noted that the legislation will provide more opportunities for legitimate conversations between coaches and prospects, would put Division II in a better position to react to future technological changes and would bring the athletics recruiting process more in line with traditional students’ experiences. In addition, the reduced oversight will reduce the burden currently placed on Division II compliance administrators.

Acknowledging concerns that the more open approach could be misapplied, Cal State Monterey Bay President Dianne Harrison cited the high ground upon which most programs and coaches operate and added, “I don’t think we should be deterred by the possibility of abuse.”

She noted that Division II presidents may make guidelines available not only for coaches (the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee will distribute a best-practices document soon) but also for prospects and their parents. She also said the presidents might consider a reporting mechanism for parents or prospects who believe the rule is being abused.

There was hallway talk at the Convention that some constituents favored the earlier date but not the unlimited-contact aspect, and vice versa. However, nobody spoke in opposition to any of the three proposals, and they passed by votes of 250-35-2, 260-29-0 and 267-18-0.

Division II Presidents Council chair Drew Bogner of Molloy attributed the decisive outcome to openness and communication.

“We took this through all the different committees and then the committees asked for great input,” he said. “The students, for instance, they went back to their conferences, back to their individual schools, they asked for comments, they asked for questions, and the same thing happened at conferences.”

The membership legislation changed the required number of members for new and existing conferences, altered conference benefits and created new processes.

Although the three provisions were approved with lopsided margins (all gained more than 80 percent approval), the debate did include opposition.

Will Prewitt, the commissioner of the new Great American Conference, disagreed with No. 2012-9, which will increase from two years to five the waiting period for a new conference to be eligible for automatic qualification. “The current two-year waiting period for automatic qualification is quite adequate,” he said. “Five years is punitive for student-athletes from new conferences.”

Delegates, however, voted with the Presidents Council position, which is that abundant at-large opportunities will remain for new conference members. The proposal was adopted, 238-41-3.

The other dissent was directed at the new minimum membership standards for new conferences. South Dakota Mines Athletics Director Dick Kaiser said geographically isolated institutions such as his are challenged to affiliate with existing conferences and that the remoteness of schools in the upper plains, the Rockies and the Northwest makes it impractical for them to form new conferences.

“You’ve stopped the growth of Division II,” he told the delegates. “If that is the aim of this legislation, you have succeeded.”

After adjournment, Bogner said the legislation is actually intended to encourage growth, in an ordered way.

“The whole package encourages growth into existing conferences as much as possible,” he said, “but it does allow for new conferences to be formed. But it’s done in a reasonable way that ensures full compliance with the Division II philosophy and the goals of the Association.”

As a result of the approval of Proposal Nos. 2012-8, 9 and 10, the Division II Management Council at its post-Convention meeting lifted a membership moratorium that had been in place pending resolution of the package that was approved Saturday.

Delegates approved two other notable pieces of legislation.

By a vote of 242-34-5, they adopted No. 2012-14, which will require new and existing student-athletes (and those trying out) to take a sickle cell solubility test unless they can provide documented results of a previous test or decline the test through a written release. The change brings Division II legislation in line with that of Division I.

Also, the membership approved No. 2012-15, which will adjust the winter break previously adopted in the 2010 Life in the Balance package. The previous rule mandated the same seven days each year, but the Presidents Council responded to membership concerns that the application of the rule was too rigid. The new provision begins the break on Dec. 20 or the following Monday when Dec. 20 falls on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday; also, when Dec. 20 falls on a Monday, the winter break will begin on the following Tuesday.

Bogner said the outcome demonstrated the willingness of Division II’s leadership to listen to well-documented concerns.

“We talked about the need to come back and adjust it, and we did,” he said. “And I think that’s the way we want to operate in Division II. We can do that on anything we approve, and it’s nice to demonstrate you can do that and do it fairly quickly.”