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Braly Keller relishes impact through leading Division III SAAC

An old YouTube video and football family helped inspire dual-sport student-athlete

Braly Keller’s involvement in the Division III National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee almost felt like it was two decades in the making.

Keller, who graduated in August with degrees in mathematics and secondary education, was a dual-sport athlete at Nebraska Wesleyan as a member of the swimming team and a receiver for the football squad. His father, Brian, has been Nebraska Wesleyan’s football head coach since 1996.

But it was actually an old YouTube video that sparked his interest in serving on the national committee after two years on his campus SAAC.

“At the end of my sophomore year when we were in that rebranding process (to the American Rivers Conference), I kind of got to talking to my commissioner and seeing what things look like at the conference level,” Keller said. “And if we’re talking conference things, I thought there had to be something nationally. I think (this video) was like 10 years old — about national SAAC and I was, like, ‘What!’ and talked to my athletic director about it.”

The national DIII SAAC representative for the American Rivers Conference (formerly Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) was rolling off the committee at the end of 2018. After applying for the open position, Keller was able to join national SAAC in time for the 2019 NCAA Convention in Orlando, Florida.

“The way I picture (summer camp) is people hanging out and getting together, and by the end of it, they’re all best friends.” Keller said. “That’s kind of how national SAAC works. Everybody is in the same point in life, just going through the same things in sports, and they have the same passion for collegiate athletics. And we come together a couple of times a year, but we get to stay in touch throughout the year, so it’s that much better than a summer camp.”

At the 2020 NCAA Convention in Anaheim, California, Keller had the opportunity to speak on proposal 2020-5 at the Division III Business Session on behalf of Division III SAAC, sharing the committee’s position in favor and speaking out on how this would affect his and his teammates’ experiences. The proposal allowed institutions to provide practice expense in the sports of golf and swimming and diving during an official vacation period regardless of location. The legislative piece was narrowly adopted by a 218-196-66 vote.

“Just seeing how the student-athlete voice can actually have an influence was so exciting,” he said. “It sounds so nerdy, but I went back and told my coach, ‘This was an awesome experience, like top five throughout college and I actually got to impact thousands of student-athletes that are coming through and swimming later on.’ So just understanding the weight that comes with this role, and just the potential through it, is so special.”

Besides chairing SAAC, Keller is on the Division III Championships Committee and the division’s name, image and likeness oversight group. New name, image and likeness legislation by each division is slated to be voted on at the 2021 NCAA Convention and be in place for the 2021-2022 academic year.

“I cannot even fathom the amount of different areas and opportunities that have come through (SAAC),” Keller said. “It’s insane. These are the biggest hot topics in sports, and we get to have a say in it, which is super cool.”

Besides having his father as a coach for four seasons at Nebraska Wesleyan, Keller was football teammates with his older and younger brothers, Crew and Quinn, respectively, during his Prairie Wolves career. Their father was a defensive lineman and linebacker for Nebraska Wesleyan from 1979-82.

“I can reflect back on it now and see just how great it was we were able to share those experiences together,” Keller said. “That’s his passion, that’s his career and even getting to share that on the level as a player to coach is pretty awesome. I mean it’s such a family thing, Wesleyan football, and it really is hard to put into words.”

Through his upbringing, involvement in SAAC and time as a swimming and football student-athlete, Keller has had an affinity for college sports that has led him to want to pursue a career in the field. This fall, Keller will begin the intercollegiate athletics administration graduate program at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

“I am a very big proponent of the value of sports in general,” he said. “The challenge, the setbacks, whether it’s injuries or maybe just not the results you were looking for in the pool, you learn from those and you grow through those. And having your family involved in it like I did, whether it was a teammate or a coach, just built that relationship even stronger and allowed for experiences that traditional students or maybe anyone outside of athletics could experience but didn’t quite experience on the same level.”