Nine years ago, Jason Sobolik stepped into an athletics compliance environment that felt drastically different from the one he knows today.
The Minnesota State University Moorhead administrator would hesitate before calling his compliance peers on other Division II campuses, and he rarely heard from them in return. The questions, concerns and best practices of compliance administrators around the country most often stayed on their individual campuses. But as Sobolik progressed in his compliance career – moving from part-time monitoring duties that he balanced with coaching to a full-time administrative role – he recognized a need for greater collaboration. And in a division where one-person compliance offices are the norm, he was not alone.
“You get to know people and you get to understand that the same issues, the same questions and the same problems you’re having on your campus, they’re having on their campus, as well,” he says. “The job is hard enough as it is. You just come to the conclusion of, let’s help each other out.”
A heightened focus on partnership and widespread rules education has permeated the culture of Division II compliance in recent years and continues to gain steam. Unlike in Division I, where some schools employ as many as 15 people to focus specifically on compliance, Division II schools often have only one compliance person who balances monitoring duties with student-athlete development, game management, sports information or marketing responsibilities.
The unique challenges in Division II led MSU Moorhead and its conference, the Northern Sun, to make a concerted effort to increase transparency between the conference’s compliance offices. Compliance coordinators in the Northern Sun now hold a monthly call where they discuss legislative changes, violations and issues they might be facing.
Similar efforts have bubbled up at the national level, too. Here are a few ways that compliance coordinators are seeing it happen:
Regional Compliance Seminars
Division II national office staff last year launched a pilot program of Regional Compliance Seminars that are designed to be more intimate, interactive and regionally accessible for members than the traditional, large-scale Regional Rules Seminars. The new one-day session enables Division II compliance administrators to undergo training alongside other people from their campus, including coaches, financial aid representatives and admissions staff. “I think that’s key,” says Natasha Oakes, associate director of athletics for compliance at Missouri Western State University. “If you’re able to bring others outside of athletics, and specifically outside the compliance department, that helps with your educational efforts on campus.”
Next year will be the first that all eight geographic regions of Division II will host either a Regional Compliance Seminar or a Regional Rules Seminar, helping ensure that ongoing rules education in Division II is more accessible than ever.
Division II staff also formed a partnership with the National Association for Athletics Compliance, a collaboration intended to help both groups better serve compliance administrators. In January, the groups launched a campus outreach program to gather feedback and build relationships in the Division II compliance community.
“I think our partnership with NAAC and (academic and membership affairs) staff has been tremendous, and I think it is going to continue to grow,” says Angela Red, associate director of athletics at McKendree University and chair of the Division II NAAC Committee. “This is just the beginning of something that’s going to be really great.”
Legislation Committee reviews
While Division II’s formal ease-of-burden initiative ended in 2013, the committee that oversees Division II legislation continues to search for opportunities to assist members through deregulation or simplification of the rules. The Division II Legislation Committee this spring began re-evaluating the nonchampionship segment legislation and recommended new financial aid concepts that were born from a three-year review effort. Both efforts have involved outreach to members that will continue throughout the year.
“We try to explain concepts to our membership, have conversations and get feedback from them,” says Oakes, chair of the Legislation Committee. “To say, ‘Here are some things we’ve thought of. What do you think?’”