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DII Presidents Council sponsors pair of proposals

Proposals addressing unattached athletes, strength and conditioning coach certification head to Convention vote

The ongoing discussions over how to manage unattached competition in individual Division II sports reached the Presidents Council last week, and now the membership will get its chance to finish the debate.

At its Aug. 5-6 meeting in Indianapolis, the Presidents Council voted to sponsor a proposal for the 2016 Convention that would establish new eligibility requirements for student-athletes competing unattached.

Currently, Division II student-athletes in individual sports – most commonly wrestling, swimming, cross country and track and field – can compete during the academic year as independent athletes who are unaffiliated with a team as long as they follow certain regulations. The athletes must pay their own way to the competition, cannot work with their coach at the competition and cannot wear their team’s uniform. Additionally, the competition must be an open event and not restricted to only collegiate competitors.

The opportunity to compete unattached currently applies to all individual sport athletes, including those who are athletically or academically ineligible. But the Presidents Council-sponsored proposal would change that piece of the legislation, allowing only student-athletes who are eligible for intercollegiate competition to compete unattached. 

The presidents voted against a second, similar proposal that they deemed too confining. That proposal would have required not only that unattached student-athletes be eligible in order to compete, but it also would have prevented them from competing at the same sites as their intercollegiate teams. The proposals originated from the Division II Legislation Committee, and during a July 27-28 meeting, the Division II Management Council recommended both to the Presidents Council.

“The first proposal was too restrictive on the student-athlete,” said Judy Bense, president of the University of West Florida and Presidents Council chair. “It just didn’t sit well.  On the other hand, council members did want to put some restrictions in, like student-athletes have to be eligible. That was, I think, a good compromise.”

The legislation on unattached competition was originally created to provide flexibility for student-athletes who might, for instance, want to compete in a community 5K race during the academic year despite being a member of the institution's track team. It has since grown to become part of the culture in several individual sports, providing opportunities for athletes who are redshirting a season or for those who did not make the travel squad to participate as unattached competitors in an unlimited number of open events without triggering the use of a season of competition.

However, some members have expressed concerns about coaches and athletes abusing the rules. Others consider the legislation unfair to team sport athletes, who do not have equivalent opportunities to compete independent of their teams during their respective sport's season.

Sport committees, the Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and many other membership groups in Division II have weighed in on the unattached competition legislation, and that feedback was considered during the crafting of the proposals.

The Presidents Council-sponsored proposal will now go to a formal membership vote in January.

Strength and conditioning coach certification

The Presidents Council also took action on another heavily discussed topic: the certification of strength and conditioning coaches. The presidents sponsored a proposal that would require any person designated as a school’s strength and conditioning coach to be nationally certified. If a school does not designate a strength and conditioning coach, anyone who conducts strength and conditioning workouts, except coaches who only conduct those activities during practice sessions, would need to be certified.

The proposal stems from conversations that began in 2012, when the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended all three divisions adopt rules requiring certification of anyone conducting, designing or monitoring strength and conditioning workouts. Last summer, Division II established a working group to discuss that recommendation; that group ultimately brought forth the latest proposal.

During their meeting, Presidents Council members requested more information on the cost of certification, but noted the importance of the change from a health and safety standpoint. Some shared anecdotal evidence of the benefits.

“We have both a male and a female full-time certified strength and conditioning coach, and it’s been extremely well received not only with student-athletes, but also with parents,” said Ronald Ellis, president of California Baptist University. “I would highly recommend it.”

Other actions

Also at its meeting, the Presidents Council:

  • Sponsored a three-pronged proposal for the 2016 Convention that would change the automatic qualification criteria for Division II championships.
  • Sponsored another 2016 Convention proposal that would make it easier for student-athletes to compete on an outside team while participating in a study abroad or foreign exchange program that is recognized by their school outside their sport’s regular season. Under the proposal, such an experience would not trigger transfer status or the use of a season of competition.
  • Referred a proposal regarding student-athletes from NAIA schools back to the Division II Legislation Committee for further discussion. The proposal would enable NAIA student-athletes to transfer to Division II schools without requiring them to first get permission from their school to have contact with Division II programs or to get their consent to use the one-time transfer exception.
  • Reviewed five membership-sponsored Convention proposals and referred them on to related Division II and Association-wide committees for their additional review and formal positions. 
  • Approved new Division II priorities for 2015-16, which include legislative issues, student-athlete initiatives, brand-enhancement activation, media presence, joint championships, coaches’ outreach and more.
  • Re-elected Steve Scott, president of Pittsburg State University, as the vice chair of the Presidents Council. Scott has served as the vice chair since January.
  • Ratified the appointment of Gary Gray, University of Alaska Fairbanks athletics director, as the vice chair of the Management Council. Gray will hold the position through August 2016.