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One in a series of profiles from the Spring 2011 issue of Champion magazine.
By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
More student-athletes train, practice and compete outside the media spotlight than bask in widespread public attention. The same can be said for athletics administrators who often toil in anonymity, advocating for the vast majority of student-athletes who will never appear on TV or the front page of the sports section.
Commissioners Patty Viverito of the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Julie Ruppert of the Northeast-10 are two of those administrators who have dedicated their lives to the lesser-knowns.
Commissioner Patty Viverito (right).
Viverito, who also serves as senior associate commissioner for the Missouri Valley Conference, has a passion for giving a voice to the young men who compete in the Football Championship Subdivision. Fighting for the often-neglected segment of Division I football doesn’t stray far from Viverito’s roots as an advocate for women in athletics.
“For FCS football and women, you’re talking about a subset in athletics that doesn’t get all the attention and promotion and investment that other sports get,” Viverito said. “You find yourself in a position of advocating for these student-athletes who are sometimes overlooked.”
Her pet project is championship bracket expansion, even though the FCS recently grew from 16 to 20 teams. The Pioneer Football League, which Viverito also leads, doesn’t have an automatic bid to the championship, and she laments the fact that more than 1,000 student-athletes begin each year without guaranteed postseason access.
For her part, Ruppert has led the Division II Northeast-10 for the past three years after 15 years with what is now the America East Conference. To her, the main difference between Division I and Division II is that there are fewer people to accomplish the same jobs.
“It just means you take on more yourself, or you temper your expectations to the reality of what your resources can handle,” Ruppert said. “It seems to me, after just three years, that there’s more cohesiveness and commonality of mission within all of Division II than there is in Division I.”
“You’re talking about a subset in athletics that doesn’t get all the attention and promotion and investment that other sports get. You find yourself in a position of advocating for these student-athletes who are sometimes overlooked.” – Patty Viverito, Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner
Ruppert acknowledged that geography will always be a challenge in Division II, but she believes institutions in her league could compete nationally with any other Division II institutions – something she isn’t quite so sure about in Division I.
Commissioner Julie Ruppert (right).
“At the end of the day, resources are so varied in Division I that I feel like it never allows you to have that sort of commonality,” Ruppert said. “I love every opportunity to tell people about Division II and how I think we have it all in perspective.”
That perspective includes a strong sense of integration with the rest of the university, something she also saw as a student at Division III Middlebury. At Middlebury, she said, part of being in school was being involved with athletics in some way. Ruppert wasn’t a student-athlete but she was an active participant as a volunteer – and later as an intern and paid employee – in the athletics department.
Her current job, she said, is the perfect blend.
“Division II gives the best of both worlds,” she said.
Both Viverito and Ruppert cite the passion they find in their respective worlds – and within themselves – as the reason they keep doing what they’re doing.
“There is this passion, this deep-seated love for teams and the student-athletes that represent them,” Viverito said. “I find it inspiring.”