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DII Council focuses on international membership, academic issues

By David Pickle

An important Division II issue regarding international membership got extra emphasis this week when Presidents Council chair Pat O’Brien made himself available to the Management Council to answer questions about the President Council’s desire to extend a pilot program for international members to institutions in Mexico.

Earlier this year, Division II became home to the NCAA’s first international member when Simon Fraser University of Burnaby, B.C., gained active membership. Simon Fraser entered through a 10-year pilot program that was approved at the 2008 NCAA Convention.

About the time Simon Fraser was clearing its final hurdles toward membership, representatives from Mexico inquired about whether their schools could participate in the program. Expanding the pilot from Canadian institutions to schools in Mexico would require a modification of current legislation, however, and the Management Council at its July meeting voted against sponsoring such legislation. A couple of weeks later, the presidents went the other way and chose to sponsor the legislation, which will be considered at the January Convention.

O’Brien’s visit Monday was to provide an in-person response to Management Council concerns. At the end of a 45-minute discussion, he asked them to remember the nature of the legislation and to consider that the situation might be viewed differently if national progress was made with immigration reform over the next several years.

“Remember, this is a pilot,” said O’Brien, president at West Texas A&M. “If it doesn’t work, the program will end in 2018. Also, I think this is being viewed from a static perspective. I’m hopeful for immigration reform, and if that happens, questions surrounding issues like visas will likely be very different in 2018 than they are now.”

O’Brien acknowledged that his school’s conference, the Lone Star Conference, would benefit from the addition of Monterrey Tech, the Mexican institution that has shown the most interest. But he said that overall presidential support for extending the pilot transcends the LSC’s particular needs.

“We want to provide opportunities for student-athletes and student bodies from different cultures to interact with one another, similar to the general philosophy on most campuses,” he said. “We recognize that the world in which our students will have to work is global, and we should make sure the experience of intercollegiate athletics is consistent with that mission.”

O’Brien said the presidents’ action also supports the spirit of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which not only is about free trade but which he said encourages greater integration of the cultures of Canada, the United States and Mexico.

He acknowledged concerns about drug violence in Mexico and told the Council that Monterrey Tech athletics officials have agreed to play home games north of the border in places such as El Paso, Laredo or various places in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley as long as concerns about violence persist. He said Monterrey Tech leadership has not signed off on that commitment and that he and other Lone Star officials will learn more when they visit the school Nov. 5.

Management Council members were candid in sharing their concerns about extending the pilot to Mexico.

One member who noted his opposition to the proposal in July said he remained skeptical that a few games a year could bridge cultural gaps or help build a fan base in Mexico. He said his position had softened a bit with the news that Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are leaving the LSC to join Division I, but he said the hosting-away-from-campus compromise made him uncomfortable. “I want to believe I can compete against any school on a home-and-home basis,” he said.

Perhaps the greatest reservation had to do with getting student-athletes across the border and back in a post-9/11 environment. One member noted how California law required access to higher education for the children of undocumented workers, but she said Mexican border crossings for such students could be inordinately difficult – perhaps even harder than Canadian crossings.

Other concerns ranged from the soccer culture in Mexico to what eligibility standards Monterrey Tech currently applies.

After O’Brien said he would learn more about those and other issues during the Nov. 5 visit, one Management Council member asked if he could envision learning anything during that visit that might be considered a deal-breaker.

“That could happen,” O’Brien said, “but I still think it’s in the best interests of the division to pass the legislation. We discovered University of British Columbia wasn’t a good fit for us but that Simon Fraser was. If we don’t pass this, we’ll never know if there was a Mexican institution out there that might be a good fit.”

Academic requirements

The Management Council’s other marquee topic was a discussion of concepts developed by the Division II Academic Requirements Task Force.  Although the Council also talked about concepts for initial eligibility and two-year college transfers, most time was spent on a concept for progress-toward-degree requirements.

The concept would strengthen term-by-term checks, increase the number of hours that must be completed each term and also the number of hours that must be completed in each of the first two years. In addition, it would require that student-athletes must have completed 60 percent of their degree requirements after the third year.

Completion of [including summer] Good academic standing – Term-by-term (based on institutional policy) Credit hours – End of academic year (including summer hours) Credit hour –  Term-by-term (cannot use summer hours to meet term- by-term requirement) Percentage of degree (can be recertified midyear to regain eligibility) GPA (can be recertified midyear to regain eligibility)
Year 1 Term-by-term 27 semester/ 40 quarter hours Nine semester/eight  quarter hours N/A 1.8 or 2.0
Year 2 Term-by-term 27 semester/ 40 quarter hours Nine semester/eight  quarter hours 1.9 or 2.0
Designation of Degree
Year 3 Term-by-term Nine semester/eight quarter hours 60% 2.0
Year 4 Term-by-term Nine semester/eight quarter hours 2.0
Year 5 Term-by-term Nine semester/eight quarter hours 2.0

Current regulations require the completion of at least 24 hours per year and at least six hours per term. The new concept would eliminate the limit on the number of hours that could be earned in the summer (the thinking being that summer school offerings have been curtailed in recent years and now focus more on required courses and less on higher-level courses and electives).

The reaction to the concept was generally favorable. Comments included the following:

  • Some members believed the current standards of 24 hours per year and six hours per term are insufficient and agreed with the increased credit-hour requirements.
  • Opinions were mixed on whether student-athletes should have a 2.0 after year one and for all subsequent years, but some Council members indicated the current stairstep approach of 1.8, 1.9 and 2.0 made sense.
  • The requirement to have completed 60 percent of degree requirements by the end of the third year seemed to be accepted because it demonstrates that student-athletes are making progress toward a degree, but some members wanted to monitor that progress from Year One. In turn, that raised questions about how such monitoring fits with Division II’s initiative to ease administrative burden, but it also was noted that the division will continue to eliminate unnecessary legislation in other bylaws, if the division agreed that academic requirements were of primary importance.
  • Members said the changes would require athletics departments to be more intentional with their academic advising (and to educate academic advisors and coaches about the requirements).
  • Consideration of the legislation’s effective date would need to be carefully considered to provide sufficient time for education and to be fair to currently enrolled student-athletes.
  • Concern was expressed about how a change in majors might affect student-athletes. A similar concern was expressed about whether student-athletes experiencing “life issues” could reasonably be expected to meet the 27-hour-per-year requirement. Along those same lines, others wondered about the increasing burden on compliance administrators to file waiver requests resulting from such circumstances.

The Academic Requirements Task Force will continue throughout the fall to vet the concepts, which are intended to create a coordinated, seamless path to graduation for Division II student-athletes. Division II presidents will discuss the proposals in detail during the Chancellors and Presidents Summit at the 2013 Convention. Other Convention attendees will be able to attend a Convention education session on the topic. Any resulting legislation will be considered at the 2014 Convention.

Other business

In other business at its Oct. 15-16 meeting, the Division II Management Council:

  • Heard a presentation from NCAA staff member Juanita Sheely on how the federal Affordable Care Act will affect permissible and nonpermissible medical expenses for student-athletes. The matter was referred to the Division II Legislation Committee to determine if legislative changes are necessary. The Council noted that it was important for institutions to have conversations about the Act and its impact on individual schools because the Act affects all students and not just student-athletes.
  • Elected eight new Management Council members, along with a new chair and vice chair. The Presidents Council, which meets Oct. 29-30, must ratify all elections.
  • Referred to the Planning and Finance Committee a recommendation to increase championships per diem to $95 for 2013-14 and $100 beginning in 2014-15.
  • Voted to support a position on the participation of intersex student-athletes developed by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
  • Voted to support a resolution supporting the concept of equal opportunity for girls and women in sports at all levels, as embodied in the Brighton Declaration.