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DII to permit access to athletics aid, practice to nonqualifiers

Providing athletics aid, practice opportunities is up to school’s discretion

Division II adopted legislation permitting schools to provide athletics aid and access to practice to all incoming freshman student-athletes and two-year college transfers regardless of their initial-eligibility status.

Division II delegates adopted this legislative change during Friday’s business session of the virtual 2021 NCAA Convention. The change becomes effective Aug. 1, 2021.

Currently, incoming freshman student-athletes and two-year college transfers who are nonqualifiers are not permitted to receive athletics aid during their first academic year in residence unless an initial-eligibility waiver is approved. During the last six certification cycles, however, 97% of all such waivers were granted for at least athletics aid. Additionally, 65% of waivers for nonqualifiers allowing access to practice were granted.

Given the high percentage of approvals, this legislative change will permit schools to provide institutional athletics aid and access to practice without a waiver. Providing such aid and/or access to practice would be left to institutional discretion. Any athletics aid provided to a nonqualifier would count toward team equivalency limits.

“Providing nonqualifiers access to aid and practice during their initial year of enrollment will provide more stability in enrollment during this time when institutions are facing serious challenges,” said Gayle Hutchinson, president of Chico State and a member of the Division II Presidents Council. “Students who do not have full access to financial support or activities often find it difficult to assimilate to the campus environment. By providing access to practice when they arrive, these students may receive increased support and not feel as isolated. If students feel welcomed and are integrated into the team culture, there is a greater chance of retention year after year.”

The Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which receives an official vote during the  business session, formally supported the proposal. Last year, the group of student leaders also influenced an expansion of the proposal to include access to both athletics aid and practice, as the original proposal included only access to athletics aid. The committee’s rationale centered on the importance of student-athletes staying connected to their teams and how that can positively factor into mental health. 

“Division II SAAC understands the difficulty when transitioning into a new institution. All incoming student-athletes should be given an opportunity to pursue an education with the assistance of athletics aid, while continuing to be an active part and member of their team with the benefit of practicing,” said Alex Shillow, senior football player at Texas A&M-Commerce and chair of Division II SAAC. “The holistic student-athlete experience is about developing relationships with teammates and peers and working hard in your sport, all while pursuing an education. This will ensure that all student-athletes can focus on just that.”

Name, image and likeness

Earlier in the week, the Division II Presidents Council voted to withdraw the division’s name, image and likeness proposal from consideration during Friday’s business session.

The Presidents Council’s action followed NCAA President Mark Emmert’s request for all three divisions to delay voting on name, image and likeness legislation amid recent judicial, political and enforcement issues related to the proposals.

After Division II’s formal business session ended, Division II SAAC vice chair and Division II Legislation Committee member Mackenzie O’Neill read a statement from the Division II SAAC Executive Board, which also includes Shillow, Southern New Hampshire’s Kate Pigsley and Southern Arkansas’ Olivia Graham.

The statement expressed Division II SAAC’s disappointment in the delay, along with its understanding for the reasons behind it.

“We also want to acknowledge that this is simply a pause in the process, and it will be picked up again once the concerns are sorted out,” said O’Neill, a women’s soccer player at Missouri Western. “We want to express our confidence in the process in which this proposal was developed. Throughout the process, our voices were heard, considered and respected when decisions were being made. The membership can be confident that each part of the proposal that was scheduled to be put forward (Friday) has the student-athlete voice behind it.”

Division II Award of Excellence

During Division II’s business session, Roberts Wesleyan was recognized as the 2021 winner of the Division II Award of Excellence for its fundraising efforts for a children’s hospital. The Redhawks raised more than $10,000 for the cause in February 2020 that culminated with a basketball doubleheader dedicated to the philanthropic effort.

Belmont Abbey and Texas A&M-Commerce received second and third place, respectively. Division II SAAC selects the award winners based on events over the past year that exemplify the Division II philosophy, community engagement and student-athlete leadership.