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Division III Presidents Council supports key health and safety legislation

By Brian Burnsed

The Division III Presidents Council met on Thursday, Aug. 8, at the NCAA’s Indianapolis headquarters. The lengthiest discussions and most significant pieces of legislation that the Council sponsored pertained to student-athlete health and safety, particularly a pair of initiatives proposed by the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS). Both will be voted upon at the 2014 NCAA Convention.

Reduced penalty for positive street drug tests

The Council voted to sponsor legislation that would decrease the penalty for a positive street drug test at NCAA championships from a full year of athletic ineligibility to a half-season. CSMAS recommended the change in the wake of a 2010 summit that examined the NCAA marijuana policy, and the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute (SSI) has noted that student-athletes who have tested positive for street drugs and subsequently lost a year of eligibility have a higher probability of dropping out. CSMAS hopes that a less severe sanction, coupled with education and counseling, will keep more student-athletes in school.

Division III drug testing rule change and team physician designation.

While many Council members felt adopting a less burdensome penalty for positive street drug tests was a step in the right direction, they stressed that future legislation go even further. Several presidents noted their opposition to any form of NCAA street drug testing, given that those substances are not considered to enhance athletic performance.

Instead, some Council members believe the responsibility should rest with individual institutions and state laws. Council members questioned why student-athletes should be tested for street drugs when they offer no on-field advantage and their peers on campus, who don’t participate in athletics, aren’t subject to such tests. While the Council voted in favor of the penalty reduction, it will emphasize its preference that future legislation be put in motion to abolish street drug testing at championships in Division III.

“I think that this legislation does lay the groundwork for the next step, but I don’t think it goes far enough,” said Sharon Herzberger, president of Whittier College and vicechair of the Division III Presidents Council. “And it seems to me that the NCAA has to be careful about legislating matters that don’t relate to athletic performance. Since the street drugs, as defined in the way that we do, are not affecting the performance of athletes, we should get out of the business of legislating that and give that to the states and to the individual institutions to make decisions on how to handle it.”

Sport safety package

The three-part Sports Safety Package is another significant piece of legislation that CSMAS has recommended each division adopt. Two of the requirements – catastrophic injury reporting and first aid, CPR and AED certification for all coaches –  passed easily. But the portion of the package that requires member schools designate a team physician to oversee their athletic trainers and sports medicine practices was examined at length. Ultimately, the Council voted to sponsor the designated team physician mandate.

Some council members did not see the need for the mandate given that laws in 48 of 50 states already specify similar requirements and that the legislation, in some cases, calls for schools to exceed those requirements. Others felt the new rule was necessary to ensure that member institutions are in accordance with those laws and adhere to best practices that ensure the health and safety of student-athletes.

“I felt we really addressed the issue of making sure that we’re providing for the student-athlete,” said Jack Ohle, Council chair and president of Gustavus Adolphus College. “There are concerns in Division III of how we’re going to fund the designation of a team physician and what institutions might do to make sure that they can comply. Really, it is a policy that gives us a chance to say that the health and welfare of student-athletes is first and foremost.”

Joint Legislative Steering Subcommittee

The Council agreed with a recommendation by a joint subcommittee consisting of Management Council and Presidents Council members that will alter how the Division III Management Council sponsors legislation. Should Management Council also approve of the recommendation, two-thirds, not a majority, of the Management Council must vote in favor of legislation for the Council to formally sponsor it.

The Presidents Council will still require a majority to sponsor legislation on its own behalf, and will pay special attention to any proposals the Management Council does not sponsor under the new two-thirds voting threshold, but that more than half of its members voted to support.

New Council members

L. Jay Lemons, president of Susquehanna University, and Lex McMillan, president of Albright College, were both nominated to join the Presidents Council effective immdediately. Council members voted unanimously to approve their appointments.