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Nathan Kafer (left) of Regis University.
Nathan Kafer of Regis University (Colo.), a soccer student-athlete set to graduate in May, recently became chair of the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
Kafer has served on the Regis SAAC since early in his freshman year. He is majoring in economics and business administration, with an emphasis on finance. After he graduates, he hopes to work for a couple of years before pursuing an MBA, probably in finance.
David Pickle of NCAA.org recently spoke with Kafer about his Division II experience and about issues facing Division II student-athletes.
Q: Tell me how you came to be a student-athlete.
A: My dad always pushed me to play one team sport and one individual sport. I started with soccer, but I also played tennis, basketball, hockey and wrestling. I moved to wrestling closer to middle school, but soccer seemed to be the sport that stuck with me the most. I wasn’t able to play football – my dad had a pretty serious football injury in high school and my mom veered us away from that.
I started doing wrestling in middle school. That was a big passion of mine, as far as individual sports go. But it came to the point where I had to decide. So I chose to go with the team sport. I’ve always been a team player and loved the team atmosphere, the camaraderie that comes with it. Since then, it’s been a blessing in my life.
Q: How did you end up at Regis?
A: I was fortunate enough to be part of the Colorado Olympic Development Program. One of the coaches was Frank Kohlenstein from Colorado School of Mines, which is in our conference. I got to experience their campus, practice at their facilities and get a little look at the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) and some of their coaches. During summer of my senior year, one of the coaches for the ODP program was the coach at Regis at the time. So I got to come on campus, which is actually a botany museum. It’s very beautiful, and I fell in love with it.
I decided Regis would be a good place for me. It was close to home and I liked that. My sister was playing soccer at the University of Northern Colorado and I wanted to be close to her. My younger sister was still going to school at Broomfield, where I went to high school. So it was sort of a family decision.
I liked the atmosphere and the Division II approach that the coaches explained to me. It was completely different from my experiences talking to the Division I or III institutions that were recruiting me.
From an academic standpoint, one of the reasons I chose to come to Regis was students here are taught by Ph.D.s whereas if you go to a bigger school, maybe you’re taught by teachers’ assistants. So I get the level of knowledge that the professors here have to offer. I always wanted to be taught by the best so I could be the best. That’s kind of been my approach with soccer and academics.
Q: How did you end up on the Regis and the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committees?
A: I had always been a member of the Student Council and things like that. At our first student-athlete assembly, we had a presentation about SAAC. I immediately said I wanted to do it. A few days later, our senior soccer representative was getting ready for med school and the time demands were too much, and he asked me to take over. So I just sort of got thrown into the fire as a freshman.
I think I had competed in one game and I was already the SAAC member for soccer. I went in with big eyes and big heart and decided this is something I want to do. Fortunately for me, Ann Martin, our athletic director who was the assistant AD at the time, helped mentor me. She told me what the job really entailed and nominated me for a position at the 2008 NCAA Leadership Academy in Orlando. I was just a freshman. Why would they pick me? But I got chosen, and I got to learn about the limitless possibilities you have as a student-athlete.
The retreat in Orlando opened my eyes. I became president of the Regis SAAC, a representative to the campus SAAC and was nominated and elected to the national SAAC.
To be chosen by my colleagues in the SAAC world to join the national SAAC was a big honor to me, and it continued to be a big honor up until November when I was nominated for the chair of the Division II SAAC. I was very moved that my fellow athletes and SAAC members thought highly enough of me to nominate me for that position.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the Division II SAAC?
A: One of the biggest issues – and it’s a continuing issue, to be honest – is trying to involve the campuses and the individual SAACs. SAACers on the national committee are very committed and highly dedicated to the SAAC and our overall purpose, but we want to make sure that commitment level is extended throughout Division II at large. Our biggest strength comes from the participation of every SAAC member. That means going back to the individual teams and the SAAC representatives and explaining legislation to teammates so we’re getting every athlete involved. Because in every sport, every athlete thinks differently. It’s crucial for what we do at the national level to be able to get the comments, the ideas about legislation and why student-athletes feel a certain way. So one of our biggest priorities is to increase communication between campus SAACs and conference SAACs and then make sure that every student-athlete’s voice is heard − not just the SAAC representatives.
Q: Do you have a particular idea to improve communications?
A: One of the biggest things we’ve worked on, and it’s in the process of becoming a big success, is the Facebook page that links to the DIISA.org website. That’s something that we feel passionately about. You know, not every student-athlete is going to be able to attend meetings to participate to the level that they wish, but the majority of student-athletes do have a Facebook page. This makes it possible for many more student-athletes than ever before to ask questions and hear things about being a student-athlete or to interact with other Division II student-athletes, maybe about some struggles that they may be going through. Our goal is to have all student-athlete who have a Facebook page to be fans of that site.
Q: Two big Division II issues involve membership management and long-range budget discussions. How can student-athletes contribute to those discussions?
A: At the national level, we’ve attended education sessions about budgeting and long-term planning. It may be hard for student-athletes to become involved in decisions that may affect only those who come behind us, but it’s important to care about future student-athletes. In fact, two of the legislative pieces that we had a strong opinion about at the last Convention were for prospective student-athletes.
Just bringing the information that we gather from the education sessions and distributing it across the board will help increase student-athlete awareness. Student-athletes take these things personally and if they want it, the information is there. It’s our job as SAAC members to make sure that every institution’s SAAC members understand the policies, and not just for us but for future student-athletes as well. That’s part of our jobs.
Q: What are your thoughts about Division II’s nonchampionship segment?
A: I feel very strongly about having the nonchampionship segment. It’s a big reason why many of us choose Division II instead of Division III.
For one, it’s an ability for us to continue to wear our jerseys on campus and to be leaders. Student-athletes are often leaders on campus, and to have other students look up to them is very important. This whole athletic experience gives us a way to communicate our leadership to other students and throughout the campus. Additionally, many of us student-athletes have played one, two, three, four, five seasons a year, so really the nonchampionship segment as part of being one of two seasons that you play is nothing new. It’s something we’ve dealt with our entire lives.
Q: The site for the 2012 Division II National Championships Festival will be announced this spring. How does the SAAC feel about that event?
A: We feel very strongly about it. We were fortunate enough, and highly thankful, to have the opportunity to sit with Dr. Emmert (NCAA President Mark) and talk about the Sports Festival. He had the opportunity to experience it and the magic that comes from it. And we’ve had a few student-athletes at the national SAAC level who have participated in them – Jaclyn Puga and Rich Eckert have actually participated in two of them.
It’s something that identifies Division II and brings student-athletes together. These are some of the highest skilled athletes in their division for that year; to have them go back to campus and describe their experiences and get this sense of pride in Division II is great for Division II at large. It’s also important for other student-athletes who may not have had the opportunity to compete in it since they may strive harder to obtain such opportunities. I think it’s very important.
Q: What’s made your Division II experience special?
A: The mentorship that I get from my coaches and athletic director. I can walk up and talk to them at any moment. But I also have the ability to be treated equitably on campus. I’m not just a number. Small campuses in Division II are well-known. Having the ability to have several mentors academically and athletically has been a very impactful experience for me, and I don’t think I could have gained that at another division.