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Athletes find their voice

College athletes are now joining the conversation at both the conference and national levels

Each January, the Atlantic 10 Conference invites its athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives and senior woman administrators to a one-day meeting, in which they tackle the significant issues facing the conference and formulate the best ways to respond.

This year, though, there will be new voices at the table – the conference’s entire student-athlete advisory committee will join discussions and provide feedback to conference leadership. The meeting, which will take place after the 2015 NCAA Convention will likely focus on the impact that the autonomy votes will have on Atlantic 10 institutions. This convention is the first where the five autonomy conferences will vote independently of other Division I schools on select issues.

“As the overall NCAA model started to shift, our athletics directors and presidents decided that we should shift as a conference and model our governance structure after the national structure,” said Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade. “We also wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just symbolic, that we were increasing participation of student-athletes in a meaningful way.”

With the adoption of the new governance structure in Division I, current college athletes are being afforded more opportunities to participate in the process of creating rules and policies. In the autonomy conferences, each school will have one vote, plus three student-athletes from each conference will have a vote.

The Atlantic 10 has embraced the athletes’ voice for several reasons. McGlade, a former athlete at the University of North Carolina, understands the challenges students face trying to balance their sport and academic obligations. So she is glad  they will now be directly involved in the rule-making process, given that those decisions often directly impact their college experience.

The decision to incorporate the entire student-athlete advisory committee, and not just a few representatives came from the A-10’s athletic directors, who unanimously approved the involvement of each school’s representative. That decision in turn was wholeheartedly supported by the league’s 14 presidents.

“That’s always been important to the A-10 – to ensure that we are good listeners and we stay closely tied to the goals and values and what’s important in the world of a student-athlete,” McGlade said.

McGlade also champions the importance of leadership skills. The commissioner takes time to join one of the 10 conference calls that SAAC takes part in every year, and carves out time to sit with student-athletes at their yearly meetings to listen to them, answer their questions and help them develop leadership skills that will serve them long after their time in college.

“As student-athletes are given a vote at the national level for the first time at Convention, we see a great opportunity for a student-athlete presence in conference meetings,” said Devon Tabata, a women’s soccer athlete at Duquesne University and member of both of the Atlantic 10 and Division I National Student-Athlete Advisory Committees. “This further allows for strong lines of communication at all levels and allows for us each to better represent our conferences and institutions.”

Tabata, a senior, has served on the conference’s SAAC since 2012 and the national SAAC since July 2013. In December, she was appointed to a position on the NCAA Division I Academic Cabinet.

“I’m looking forward to working with other A-10 student-athletes to continue finding ways to represent our student-athletes and the opportunity to connect and work with conference and institution administrators,” Tabata said.