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DIII to settle text messaging debate at Convention

A legislative package that includes a proposal to deregulate text messaging in recruiting highlights Division III’s activities at the 2012 NCAA Convention this week in Indianapolis.

At Saturday’s Division III Business Session at the JW Marriott, delegates will vote on as many as 10 proposals, including the recommendation from the Division III Management Council to allow electronically transmitted correspondence between prospects and coaches (excluding social media) to be regulated according to the same standard as telephone, email and fax correspondence.

A more expansive text-messaging proposal that would have included social media is expected to be withdrawn by the sponsoring conferences (the Little East Conference and the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). Both proposals have been in the legislative cycle since July, but the Division III governance structure, including the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, has consistently backed the version that doesn’t include social media. 

SAAC members at their November meeting noted that while text messaging has evolved into an acceptable and common form of communication that was appropriate in recruiting, social media was a personal line coaches and administrators shouldn’t be allowed to cross. As for texting, SAAC members see it as a practical and helpful mode of communicating that probably wouldn’t “replace” phone calls and face-to-face meetings as what sways prospects’ college choices.

“We think texting is likely to facilitate communication between coaches and prospects and keeps up with the times, but it wouldn’t be the communication on which relationships are built,” said SAAC chair Brittany Petrella from Rowan University. “In that way, we don’t think text messaging compromises the recruiting process.”

Other proposals on the Convention floor include one from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference and the New England Collegiate Conference that would scale back activities that schools’ certified strength and conditioning personnel conduct during off days during the regular season. The proposal would also prohibit these voluntary workouts one day per week in the nontraditional segment and throughout the academic year.

The Division III SAAC at its November meeting supported the in-season restrictions, but concerns have been raised about the membership’s ability to monitor the out-of-season activities. Other governance groups, including the Management Council, oppose the measure in its entirety. 

Also of note is a proposal that seeks to keep student-athletes who have sustained a medically documented, season-ending injury from engaging with the team in any physical practice activities during the traditional season. If they do so, they would use a season of participation. Sponsors from the Midwest Conference and Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference submitted the proposal with student-athlete well-being in mind, arguing that student-athletes in such circumstances should be focused on their health and conditioning, not on improving skills or assisting their teams in practice.

Most governance groups that have reviewed the proposal, including the SAAC, have opposed it on the grounds that it represents a rule for only a few who allegedly use the hardship rule to work around the “redshirt” prohibition.

The 2012 legislative slate also includes a proposal requiring a sickle cell solubility test as part of the mandatory medical examination for incoming and continuing student-athletes, unless documented results of a prior test are provided to the institution or the student-athlete declines the test and signs a written release. 

Other sessions

In addition to voting on legislation at Saturday’s business session, delegates will hear a presentation on a “financial dashboard” initiative that could shed more light on what it costs to operate athletics in the Division III model.

The dashboards are based on data submitted via the NCAA Financial Reporting System and are a popular tool for presidents in Divisions I and II to compare their fiscal commitment to athletics with like institutions. Schools in Division I are required to submit financial data.

About 80 percent of Division III schools already voluntarily submit their data, so the Division III Presidents Council is considering how to make the dashboard tool more useful in the future.

Convention attendees also will discuss next steps after a voluntary two-year academic-reporting pilot that showed Division III student-athlete graduation rates exceeding those of the general student body.

Division III has never required academic reporting for student-athletes, but the Presidents Council authorized the pilot to see whether data supported the portion of the division’s identity initiative that touts student-athlete academic success.

At the Division III Issues Forum on Friday, participants will consider whether making academic reporting an annual, division-wide collection is a good idea or if a voluntary or less-regular approach is more suitable. While the schools that participated in the pilot provided a representative sample of the division, some people would like to see an annual, division-wide collection that produces more of an academic census. Others, though, think the burden of compiling and submitting those data doesn’t accommodate an annual collection.

Other significant Division III governance meetings during the Convention include a joint Presidents Council/Management Council/SAAC breakfast on Thursday at which SAAC members will express their desire for an enhanced relationship between student-athletes and faculty members. While the concept is not a new committee consideration, the SAAC wants to foster a stronger, more formal relationship with the Faculty Athletics Representative Association and will ask the Councils for ideas in that regard.

The Convention’s Opening Business Session is on Thursday, while the annual Honors Celebration is on Friday. Division II also conducts its business session on Saturday. The Division I Board of Directors meets then, as well.