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Board sets NCAA health and safety agenda

9 areas of focus had been identified as priorities by SSI

The NCAA Board of Governors on Tuesday formally ratified the Association-wide health and safety agenda.

Building on the cutting-edge work of the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, the board’s action is the latest demonstration of the NCAA’s emphasis on the importance of protecting student-athlete health and safety in a consistent fashion across all three divisions.

The board took that formal action by unanimously adopting nine areas of health and safety focus that the Sport Science Institute has used as its operational priorities. Those areas include the most pressing needs of student-athletes and issues at the forefront of public safety concerns — such as concussion and cardiac health — as well as areas of increasing awareness, such as mental health. They also include doping and substance abuse; nutrition, sleep and performance; overuse injuries and periodization; sexual assault and interpersonal violence; athletics health care administration; and data-driven decisions.

The board’s action provided additional weight to ongoing efforts and sends a message about the seriousness of its pursuit of consistent membership health and safety measures. Further, the board formalized a process that reflects Sport Science Institute-enhanced engagement within the governance structure, including CSMAS and each division’s presidential bodies.

“I am very pleased with the significant NCAA focus on health and wellness issues of our student-athletes,” said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, chair of the Board of Governors. “This is a positive step to further emphasize the importance of meeting that responsibility.”

The board has encouraged a more proactive stance in addressing health and safety issues of student-athletes for the past several years. In 2012, it supported an initiative that led to the creation of the Sports Science Institute and the hiring of the Association’s first chief medical officer, Dr. Brian Hainline.

In 2014, the board sanctioned and authorized funding to achieve an NCAA partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, which has developed the CARE Consortium’s concussion study, the largest ever attempted. The study is examining 35,000 student-athletes and service academy cadets over three years, and researchers hope it will yield significant discoveries about concussion, its effects and how it should be treated.

International membership approved

The board also approved a new policy that allows each division to grant membership to schools located in Canada and Mexico, making permanent a 10-year-old pilot program that already had produced the NCAA’s first international member.

That program would have expired this spring and required a decision from the Board of Governors to either extend the pilot or create a permanent policy allowing Canadian and Mexican members. The new policy still requires each division to pass its own legislation allowing international membership in those countries.

“Opening a path for international universities to attain membership in the NCAA will create opportunities for outstanding student-athletes from those countries to compete in intercollegiate athletics while enriching the experience for our current student-athletes,” Peterson said. “This policy allows each division to determine for themselves if international membership is appropriate and desirable for their members.”

Under the pilot program, only Division II approved international membership, and only in Canada. One school, Simon Fraser in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been approved for full active Division II membership.

Over the years, there has been interest by other non-U.S. colleges and universities. Indeed, one school in Mexico, CETYS Universidad, recently expressed interest in Division II membership, even though the division does not now allow members from that country. The California Collegiate Athletic Association, the PacWest, and the Great Northwest Athletic and Lone Star conferences have joined together to form a working group to advise CETYS on the membership process. A membership-sponsored proposal may be offered this summer that would prompt a 2018 NCAA Convention vote by Division II members on whether to allow membership from schools in Mexico.

Task force recommendations approved

The board approved five recommendations made in a report from the Gender Equity Task Force designed to advance the Association’s efforts on diversity, inclusion and gender equity. The report was approved by the Board of Governors’ Ad Hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity during its joint meeting with the task force.

The board-approved recommendations included the following: Create a direct reporting line from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics and the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee to the board’s Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity; require that the NCAA national office annually report its staff demographics with the goal of modeling for the membership diverse hiring; and sponsor an annual meeting of advocates and thought leaders to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in college athletics.

To address the remaining two recommendations, each division will be directed to determine the legislative actions needed to achieve them. Those recommendations would require schools to conduct a regular diversity and inclusion review once every five years; and reaffirm and formalize the principles in the NCAA constitution on gender equity and cultural diversity throughout the NCAA governance system and the NCAA national office.

The board also approved a recommendation from the Committee on Women’s Athletics and Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee to update the NCAA’s inclusion statement, which it originally adopted in 2010, to add “gender identity” and “religion.” The change was endorsed by the Division I Council, the Divisions II and III Management Councils and the Division II Presidents Council.

Path cleared for DI finance committee

After exploring possible changes to its composition, the Board of Governors approved a recommendation from its Ad Hoc Committee on Structure and Composition to maintain its current composition but established a new policy that allows Division I to form a committee to oversee its finances.

The Board of Governors traditionally has managed the overall budget of the Association, including Division I allocations, while having Divisions II and III establish their own strategic direction and set the budget for their allocations. But the Division I Board of Directors Administrative Committee requested that the management of Division I’s financial responsibilities — including its revenue distribution policy, the distribution of revenue to its members and its program budget — be overseen by the Division I Board of Directors.

The Division I Board of Directors approved the formation of the new finance committee during its meeting Wednesday.

The Board of Governors’ current composition will remain unchanged, with eight members from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision and two members each from the Football Championship Subdivision; Division I schools that do not compete in football;  Division II; and Division III. The NCAA president and the chairs of the Division I Council and the Divisions II and III Management Councils serve as nonvoting, ex-officio members.

However, in concluding its work, the ad hoc committee recommended that the board continue to explore untethering seats on the body. Each board position is now tied to seats members already hold on each division’s top governing board, either the Division I Board of Directors or the Divisions II or III Presidents Councils. The ad hoc committee received feedback that the tethered structure could at times limit institutional knowledge with its members rolling on and off the board.

Jones named vice chair

The Board of Governors named Henderson State President Glen Jones as its new vice chair, replacing Susquehanna President Jay Lemons, who will roll off the board in June.

The chair of the Division II Presidents Council, Jones was named president at Henderson State in 2012, making him the first African-American president or chancellor at an Arkansas institution of higher education that is not a historically black college or university.

Jones will serve as vice chair until his term on the board expires in January 2019.

Other actions

  • The board approved the charter for the Student-Athlete Engagement Committee, which was formed in January to provide student-athletes with a unified voice on issues and policies that cut across all three divisions. The committee will be formed by three representatives from each division’s student-athlete advisory committee, a member of the Board of Governors, and a member of either the Division I Council or the Division II or III Management Councils. The Council or Management Council member must come from a division different from the Board of Governors member. The committee is required to meet in person once per year. 
  • The board also approved in concept the charter for the NCAA Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity, which was formed in October to review and endorse recommendations regarding diversity and inclusion matters that impact the entire Association. The board asked each division’s presidential body to review the proposed composition and provide recommendations to the board. 
  • The board endorsed conducting a comprehensive review of the NCAA’s committee structure with an eye toward reducing bureaucracy and ensuring efficient and effective management of the Association.