In April 2015, representatives from the Division III Commissioners Association met with the Division III Presidents Council to raise an issue that had been percolating among the ranks of commissioners.
The leaders of the division’s 42 conferences were beginning to worry their connection to campus leaders was fraying. Without open lines of communication, they saw diminishing opportunities to convey important information and receive feedback regarding the ever-evolving athletics landscape. Data from a 2014 membership survey, for instance, indicated conference commissioners, on average, convene with their presidents only three times a year – twice in person and once via teleconference.
“Conferences are operating in a time where presidents play a significant role in their operation,” says Dan McKane, president of the Division III Commissioners Association and executive director of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. “With the emphasis on presidential involvement and oversight throughout the Association, we felt there was a need to help conferences and presidents understand the importance of open communication.”
The Presidents Council was receptive to the commissioners’ appeal and convened a working group composed of presidents and leaders from the Division III Commissioners Association, including McKane, to find a solution. Their work over the past year resulted in a guide that lays out the best practices for communication between the parties. The guide has been distributed to Division III commissioners, presidents and athletics administrators.
“They are not meant to force conferences to change how they operate,” McKane says. “We hope the ideals expressed in the document will help guide discussions, educate new presidents and commissioners, and outline best practices.”
Moving forward, what should commissioners and presidents keep in mind? A few highlights:
Onboarding for New Presidents
The issue: As new presidents assume their roles, connecting with conference commissioners sometimes hasn’t been a priority.
Solution for commissioners: Commissioners should schedule an onboarding meeting for new chancellors and presidents that highlights key topics, including the conference’s history, mission statement and governance structure.
Solution for presidents: In preparation for their onboarding meeting, chancellors and presidents should familiarize themselves with their athletics program by brushing up on the budget, staffing levels and the role of athletics in enrollment management, among other areas.
The issue: In some cases, interaction between commissioners and presidents has been too infrequent, hindering the ability of presidents to stay apprised of developments that affect their schools.
Solution for commissioners: Distribute materials relevant to the conference and Division III, such as the Division III monthly newsletter and annual report. Commissioners should highlight on a quarterly basis the most important issues and offer guidance about next steps.
Solution for presidents: Presidents participating in NCAA committee meetings or working groups should share information and insight with their conference peers.
The issue: On occasion, discussions about conference and NCAA issues have been limited to the relatively infrequent in-person interactions between commissioners and presidents throughout the year.
Solution for commissioners: It’s integral for commissioners and presidents to maintain an open line of communication and frequently discuss issues, including roles and expectations for athletics department and campus stakeholders, as well as NCAA conference grant funding requirements and expectations.
Solution for presidents: Presidents should be vocal within their conference and on their campuses. They should discuss issues with their athletics direct report, athletics director and faculty athletics representative.
The issue: Some presidents may not be aware of their opportunities to take part in NCAA governance.
Solution for commissioners: Presidents can play a role on a litany of Association-wide and Division III committees, so commissioners should encourage them to participate in groups such as the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the Honors Committee, as well as the Division III Presidents Council, Presidents Advisory Group, Management Council, and Strategic Planning and Finance Committee, among others.
Solution for presidents: Each institution receives a vote at the annual NCAA Convention, and presidents are encouraged to attend, interact with peers throughout Division III and play an active role in the legislative process.