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Top DIII Council weighs options on graduate transfer proposal

Presidents Council seeks alternative to legislation, may move for referral

A proposal that would permit graduate students to participate in athletics at the Division III institution of their choice was the centerpiece of a series of discussions Thursday.

The Division III Presidents Council is considering introducing an option related to legislation that the division will vote on this Saturday.

At its meeting at the 2017 NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, the Presidents Council reiterated its opposition to a proposal that would permit graduate students to participate in athletics at the Division III institution of their choice. But while they oppose it, the council’s members expressed interest in exploring ways to tweak a current waiver’s parameters to be more permissive for student-athletes who seek to compete at the graduate level at an institution other than where they received their undergraduate degree. (Currently, student-athletes can receive a waiver to compete as a graduate student at another institution if they completed their degree in less than four years and graduated with a 3.0 GPA or higher.)

As part of pursuing that option, the Presidents Council is considering calling for a vote to refer the transfer proposal back to the Division III Management Council during Saturday’s Division III business session with the intent of tweaking the waiver rules in lieu of a vote on the legislation itself. Some Presidents Council members expressed interest in adding a caveat that the waiver be limited to student-athletes moving from one Division III school to another.

“We already have a waiver, so do we need to enhance and enlarge the waiver rather than create new legislation?” said Alan Cureton, Presidents Council chair and president of the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. “Or is new legislation the way to go? That’s the discussion that’s on the table, and Saturday we’re going to have a healthy dialogue and debate on this, and I’m looking forward to it.”

The Presidents Council sought feedback on the proposal from the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on Thursday morning. SAAC supports the proposal because committee members believe it provides student-athletes more flexibility to make the academic and athletic choices that are in their best interests, which is similar to the rationale expressed by the proposal’s sponsors, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Little East Conference.

The Presidents Council opposes the proposal because it believes it could trigger competitive balance issues by opening the door for Division I student-athletes with remaining eligibility to move to Division III, and that schools without graduate programs could be put at a disadvantage. Further, the Presidents Council expressed concerns that the proposal isn’t congruent with the Division III philosophy, which stresses that college athletics should primarily focus on a four-year undergraduate experience.  

The Presidents Council also took the pulse of a larger group of Division III presidents at a separate event Thursday afternoon, where the bulk of the presidents in attendance indicated their opposition to the proposal through an informal straw poll. The group, though, felt comfortable with potentially amending waiver rules, particularly if it focused on transfers between Division III schools. Convention attendees will have an additional opportunity to discuss the proposal at Friday’s Division III issues forum in advance of Saturday’s voting.

“How do we still service the needs of those students who have eligibility left and that want to pursue more education through a graduate program, and still adhere to the core of what makes Division III Division III?” Cureton said. “It’s that ethos that we want to protect. Is there an ability, a pathway, a compromise where we can reach that?”

More news

  • Before its meeting Thursday morning, the Presidents Council convened with the Division III Management Council and the Division III SAAC. Over breakfast, the group reviewed SAAC’s key initiatives, including its efforts to address student-athlete mental health, and discussed the committee’s positions on 2017 legislation.
  • Dennis Shields, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, served in his final Presidents Council meeting Thursday.