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DII action sets standards for first international member institution

By David Pickle

Division II took a step toward recognizing the NCAA’s first international member institution Thursday when its Presidents Council recommended a standard for international institutions to satisfy the accreditation requirement.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., is in its final year of provisional Division II membership as part of a 10-year NCAA pilot program to permit international membership.

The Division II Membership Committee will consider whether to approve Simon Fraser as an active member at its July meeting, but as things stand, the school would not be eligible for active membership because NCAA Constitution requires that all member schools be accredited by an “appropriate regional accrediting agency.”

Because Canada has a different system to ensure educational quality, the school has not previously sought U.S. accreditation. To comply with the NCAA requirement, Simon Fraser now is in the process of gaining accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities – it was accepted into candidacy status in January – but the process cannot be completed until 2017. If nothing changes, that means Simon Fraser would not be able to compete in NCAA or Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships between now and then.

A report presented at Thursday’s Council meeting noted that while national academic accreditation is not available in Canada, Simon Fraser is a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Further, all Canadian institutions of higher learning are subject to reviews by the Degree Assurance Quality Assurance Board, which conducts peer-to-peer review. In addition, various programs within the university have sought and attained ad hoc accreditations (for example, the department of psychology is accredited by the American Psychological Association).

It was also reported that several services rank Simon Fraser among the world’s top 300 higher-education institutions.

With all of that in mind, the presidents voted unanimously to recommend to the Executive Committee  a standard for international members to satisfy the accreditation requirements. The full motion stated:

“That the Executive Committee take action to permit an international institution that is part of the NCAA international pilot program to be able to satisfy the NCAA constitutional requirement of accreditation and/or maintain active membership in the Association by either being accredited by one of the six U.S. regional accrediting agencies; or having achieved candidacy status with one of the six U.S. regional accrediting agencies and be in good standing with the country’s national, regional or provincial accreditation agency.”

The action means that the Division II Membership Committee will consider all elements of Simon Fraser’s provisional membership except for accreditation when it meets in July Active membership effective Sept. 1 could be awarded, contingent on the Executive Committee’s approval of the Division II Presidents Council recommendation and the adoption of a legislative change by the Presidents Council at its August meeting.

The NCAA Executive Committee approved a pilot program for international membership in 2007 and Division II adopted legislation at the 2008 Convention to permit institutions from Canada. Although other Canadian schools considered applying, Simon Fraser has been the only one to take the step.

The outcome is especially important for Division II, which has few football-playing members in the Northwest, especially considering Western Washington’s 2009 decision to give up the sport. Last year, Simon Fraser went 3-7 in football against an all-U.S. schedule (it played Central Washington and Dixie State twice each).

The Mexican government also has inquired about possible Division II membership for one or more institutions. The Membership Committee responded by asking for more information about how athletics are administered at the schools in question. Interestingly, while many questions remain about membership for Mexican institutions, accreditation wouldn’t necessarily be one of them. Some institutions in Mexico are accredited  by the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities.