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Division II Presidents Council debates membership proposals

With four membership-sponsored proposals headed to a Division II membership vote at the 2015 NCAA Convention in January, questions are being raised about how some of those proposals align with the division’s Life in the Balance philosophy.

The Division II Presidents Council discussed these questions this week during its quarterly meeting in Indianapolis as it considered its position on proposals that impact voluntary summer strength and conditioning workouts for fall sports, conference challenge events for several sports, the start date for competition in spring sports and the timing of out-of-season team activities. 

Those proposals increase competition opportunities, the lengths of the seasons, or formalized workout periods outside the playing season during the academic year.  To many members of the Presidents Council, which supported two of the membership-sponsored proposals and opposed the other two, such impacts can conflict with the spirit of Life in the Balance. That legislation, passed nearly five years ago, put into action the division’s philosophy of opening opportunities for student-athletes outside their sports.

“I think it’s going to come up periodically,” said Presidents Council Chair Tom Haas, president of Grand Valley State University. “We’re always going to see the pushback. … I think it’s very healthy at the end of the day that we get tested as to what those philosophical beliefs are.”

One of the proposals that council members felt tested the philosophy would allow annual conference challenge events in baseball, soccer, softball and women’s volleyball. Similar legislation in basketball was approved by Division II members during the 2009 NCAA Convention as a once-in-three years exemption, and was amended and approved again by the membership at the 2014 Convention to allow two basketball contests in such events to be exempted annually.

Proponents of the proposal, which was supported by the Division II Championships Committee, suggested that because some conferences have a large number of members – and therefore a large number of conference games – the exempt conference challenge events would allow them to play more in-region, non-conference opponents. That, in turn, would also help decisions on championships selections.

The Presidents Council, however, voted to oppose the proposal because it conflicted with the Life in the Balance legislation, which reduced the lengths of seasons.

“I think it’s a good reason,” Fort Lewis College President Dene Thomas said of the benefits of increased non-conference competition. “I just don’t think it’s as good a reason as protecting Life in the Balance.”

Similar concerns led the Presidents Council to oppose a proposal that would allow sports other than football to participate in no more than two hours of “team activities” each week outside the playing season. Under current legislation, student-athletes can work with their coaches at certain periods of time during the academic year but outside the playing season. These skill instruction or team activities are actually full-team practices; however, at other points outside of the season, coaches and student-athletes are limited only to skill instruction for the development of individual student-athletes.

Some Presidents Council members questioned whether this year’s membership-sponsored proposal constituted year-round formalized practices.

“When does life in the balance come into play?” asked council member Glen Jones, president of Henderson State University. “Is it just something we put on paper?”

“Life in the Balance comes from a philosophical perspective, and then legislatively we’re trying to match up with that,” Haas said in answer to Jones’ question. “So your question is right on, and we have to use our judgment here as a policy-making body.”

The council supported a proposal to allow certified strength and conditioning coaches to organize and conduct voluntary summer workouts for all fall sports — legislation similar to a proposal members that sponsor football approved last year for that sport only.

The proposal raised questions about whether it would start the division down a slippery slope toward all sports wanting similar access to summer workouts. Such a proposal was brought to a Convention vote — and defeated — twice before the more narrowly focused football proposal passed last year.

The Presidents Council ultimately elected to join the Division II Management Council in supporting the proposal because it would provide all fall student-athletes equal opportunity to participate in workouts that are conducted by strength and conditioning coaches, which is already provided for football, and allow them to work out in a safer environment.

The council also supported a proposal that would allow spring sports to start their seasons before Feb. 1 in years when that date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday. In those years, the seasons would be allowed to begin the Friday before Feb. 1.