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Division III carves out future agenda at Convention

By Gary Brown
NCAA.org

Division III enjoyed a productive four days at the 2012 NCAA Convention last week in Indianapolis, completing initiatives begun a year ago and setting direction for the year ahead.

Here are the highlights:

Legislation

Delegates adopted five proposals and referred another. The other four in the 10-proposal slate were withdrawn.

Of those adopted, Proposal No. 8 that deregulates text messaging in the recruiting process grabbed the headlines. The action keeps up with evolving technology but still retains restrictions on social media. Proposal No. 7, which would have opened those doors, too, was among the proposals withdrawn. 

Proposal No. 8, which is the one the governance structure favored from the start (the Management Council ended up sponsoring it), keeps the division distinct from Divisions I and II, which allow social media in recruiting. Division III may in the future, as the Council urged the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to monitor the situation, but for now at least, social media remains as a line in the recruiting sand.

Perhaps the most surprising legislative result was the membership’s referral of Proposal No. 3, which would have required testing for sickle cell trait for all student-athletes (both incoming and currently enrolled) back to the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports for further review. The proposal was for the test to be part of the mandatory medical examination, unless documented results of a prior test are provided to the institution or the student-athlete declines the test and signs a written release.

Division I adopted the measure last year and Division II passed it at its business session on Saturday (a result that was announced to the Division III delegates during their deliberation).

The Division III Presidents Council, which sponsored Proposal No. 3, was aware of concerns but remained staunchly supportive. They backed the recommendation from the competitive-safeguards committee as a student-athlete well-being issue and engaged in an aggressive educational campaign through the duration of the legislative cycle (including a 17-point Q&A that was circulated online), but it was not enough to win over the membership – at least not at this Convention.

The concerns from the membership were varied. Some people cited privacy issues; others thought the medical review should be more expansive. Some were concerned about the timing, especially for fall sports in which walk-ons would be compromised in their ability to be tested and cleared in time for practice and competition.

The more stated concern from the Convention was about costs associated with the test. Delegates who opposed the proposal when it was introduced on the Convention floor urged the division to negotiate a reduced rate with labs, though it was later pointed out from the dais that already had been arranged (student-athletes can be tested and have the results in a matter of days for between $15-$30).

The motion to refer may have been tactically savvy, since it kept those who opposed the proposal from being on record as such. It also quieted the debate on the merits of the proposal. The roll-call vote was not particularly close (272-181-8), and it didn’t get any closer on the subsequent motion to reconsider (153-252-10). 

That doesn’t mean sickle cell testing is out of the question, though, since it’s likely to be brought back in the future – this time to a membership that has had another dose of education and deliberation under its belt.

Academic reporting

Now that Division III has completed a two-year reporting pilot proving that student-athlete academic performance is as good as had been supposed, Convention attendees convened during an issues forum to talk about what to do next.

As has become standard for the NCAA’s largest and perhaps most diverse division, reaction ranged from “Why are we doing this at all?” to “Why aren’t we doing this more?”

About 100 roundtables ended up somewhere in between, with the preliminary “consensus” leaning toward keeping some version of academic reporting alive into the future. How regular and broad-based that will be and how the results will be used remain up for discussion, which the governance structure will do this coming year.

While there was some concern in the forum about the burden on resource-strapped staffs to compile these data annually, that took a back seat to comments about the purpose of collecting the data in the first place.

To the Presidents Council, which authorized the two-year pilot, the answer is simple. While the division’s philosophy statement includes the aspiration for student-athletes to perform academically as good as or better than their student-body peers (and similar emphasis appears in the division’s strategic positioning platform), there has been no broad-based empirical evidence to support whether that was true. 

The pilot provided it. Even though only about 100 schools participated in both years of the pilot, it was a representative cross section of the division’s membership, and it showed graduation rates higher for student-athletes than for the student body.

The ultimate question for the division now is whether the value of having a broader, division-wide collection of data annually – and being able to boost the identity initiative by touting student-athlete academic success as a result – is worth the challenge of individual campuses collectively providing the numbers.

Incoming Presidents Council chair Jim Schmotter of Western Connecticut State thinks the division has to do something going forward.

“It will be interesting to more thoroughly review all the feedback we got from the forum and see where the center of opinion and enthusiasm is in the division,” he said, noting that facilitators at each of the roundtables were tracking comments. “The particulars of reporting can be worked out. But it’s important for us to do something, because people are not going to assume that our students are fully participating in the academic life unless we have real data to show it.”

The Council will also continue to try to convince the membership that submitting the data isn’t as hard as it sounds. The presidents think the NCAA’s Graduation Rates Data Collection System gives schools what they need in terms of a standard methodology. Even many of the forum participants said that distinguishing a student-athlete cohort wasn’t that difficult, but there were concerns about having to track those student-athletes who leave their teams after just a year or two, or who transfer from the school altogether.

At least the forum gave the Council what it was after – a range of opinion and a clear indication of which questions need to be answered over the next 12 months. Following its review of the roundtable feedback, the governance structure will determine which options seem most appropriate moving forward. Any initiative to establish division-wide reporting would require legislative approval by the membership at a future Convention.

Dashboard indicators

Another data-based initiative Convention attendees heard about is a “dashboard indicators” project that takes financial information provided voluntarily by Division III schools and turns them into aggregate reports that presidents and other campus leaders can use to compare their athletics allocations with peer groups.

The dashboards are based on data submitted via the NCAA Financial Reporting System and already 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. It’s voluntary for Divisions II and III. About 90 percent of Division II schools submit data, and about 80 percent of Division III institutions do so.

Now, the Division III Presidents Council is considering how to make the dashboard tool more useful in the future. Delegates heard more about the project during Saturday’s business session in a presentation after they had finished voting on the legislative proposals.

The project allows data to be sorted into “dashboard indicators” that could include number of sports sponsored, proportion of athletics expenses to overall institutional spending, grad rates and others. The idea is to allow comparisons among like institutions. If a school wants to know how its athletics allocations compare within that school’s conference, the dashboards would provide it by showing the school’s standing in any number of categories (the other conference schools aren’t identified – the data are provided confidentially in aggregate). 

Feedback from Division I presidents has been positive. And those Division III presidents who have taken advantage of the reports so far like it, too.

Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger said before the Convention that she found the tool particularly useful in determining the “what if” factor – how changes to the school’s spending patterns would affect its standing.

“This is a wonderful instrument, and I thank the NCAA for its work in developing it,” she said.

Schmotter echoed those thoughts after Saturday’s presentation.

“The dashboards are a terrific idea,” he said. “I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want them. You need them. If you think you don’t need them, you’ll find out sometime that you do.”

NCAA Chief Operating Officer and former CFO for the Association Jim Isch at a Division III presidential luncheon on Friday said the dashboards were developed in response to the desire for the Association’s governance structure to be more data-driven in its decision-making. 

“A couple of things are necessary to make the dashboard project effective,” Isch told the DIII presidents. “First, you need to submit quality data. Second, you as presidents need to review the dashboards with your CFO and your athletics director, along with other campus leaders, and discuss what they mean to your institution. Without presidential leadership, the dashboards aren’t all that effective.”

Emory and Henry President Rosalind Reichard said at Friday’s luncheon that the dashboards satisfy “very engaged trustees who ask to analyze all of our programs, including athletics.” 

“The NCAA’s dashboard tool is much more effective than the EADA because it includes indirect costs and it’s wonderfully interactive,” she said. “There’s value in knowing how much we spend per athlete, especially since student-athletes compose about 40 percent of our student population at Emory and Henry.”

The Presidents Council and the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee will continue to review whether a more comprehensive dashboard model is useful to the division. It’s possible that such a model will be available to the division as early as this spring.

New PC chair wants Division III to ‘walk the talk’

Incoming Division III Presidents Council chair Jim Schmotter said the agenda for the division this coming year includes behaving in ways that counter a public perception of intercollegiate athletics that is clouded by recent scandals at a few Division I schools.

“There is a narrative out there that is inaccurate in all three divisions, but it’s totally inaccurate when it comes to Division III,” said the chief executive at Western Connecticut State. “Everything we do needs to respond to this. Someone said at the issues forum that we’re innocent until proven guilty. That’s not the case in this narrative.”

Schmotter said he’s eager for Division III as the largest division in the NCAA to continue its role in supporting the Association’s mission as best it can.

“We need to demonstrate that we can walk the talk,” he said. “The issues that have arisen surrounding intercollegiate athletics – even though they are miles away from even imagining in Division III – shape how people think about us. 

“I’ve heard more condolences from non-athletics people than congratulations when I tell them I’ll be chairing the Presidents Council this year, because they think I’m stepping into the lion’s mouth. I tell them, ‘No, no, this is all good,’ but that perception is something we’ll have to continue to overcome.”