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DIII SAAC discusses game environment, playing seasons

Student-athlete group gathers in Indianapolis to weigh in on key Division III issues

The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee weighed in on game-environment improvements and potential changes to playing and practice seasons when it gathered for its summer meeting this month in Indianapolis, advancing discussions on a pair of topics that will be a major focus for Division III through the next two years. 

The lengthy conversations during the July 18-19 meeting in Indianapolis included roundtable discussions with the Division III Management Council, which continued to explore the topics during its meeting later in the week. Other Division III committees will take SAAC’s feedback into account as they continue to address any possible changes. 

The Division III Sportsmanship and Game Environment Working Group, formed earlier this year, sought feedback from SAAC to help steer its work. Early input from membership has indicated that problems with fans and parents in the stands are the biggest hindrance to a positive game environment, so SAAC gave its opinion on several different scenarios that commonly occur at Division III events. The student-athletes indicated the types of behaviors they were comfortable with, and those with which they weren’t. 

A majority of the committee indicated that booing directed at them or at referees was acceptable, but committee members drew the line at expletives coming from other teams during pregame routines or having personal information drawn from social media used against them by fans. Most were far more accepting of barbs coming from students in the stands or opposing teams than hearing vitriol from parents. Several times, committee members were split on what was and wasn’t acceptable – the differences typically arose from what they had grown accustomed to in their sport. The working group will use their feedback as it works to create tools for administrators to ensure game environments remain positive, yet still competitive. 

“The culture of a football game is very different than that of a tennis match,” said Amanda Ingersoll, committee chair and recent graduate of the Stevens Institute of Technology, where she played lacrosse. “Regardless of these differences, the committee tried to define what is and isn’t acceptable. We not only thought of how certain comments would affect us as players, but also how these comments would affect our family and friends in the stands.”

The other major topic the committee broached pertained to the ongoing review being performed by the Division III Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee. At the 2015 NCAA Convention, the membership assigned the subcommittee to thoroughly review all issues related to playing and practice seasons. Part of that assessment includes gathering feedback from athletes. 

While SAAC members’ thoughts regarding practice time and nontraditional seasons varied by sport, nearly every member stressed that they would like to see a reduction in the number of games played midweek or, at least, that long trips on weeknights be curtailed. Lengthy trips, the athletes said, can impact their academics and other extracurricular pursuits. Lengthening regular seasons and shortening preseasons, several committee members noted, might provide an avenue to reduce the strain during the week because more weekends would be available for regular-season competition. 

None of the committee members said they wanted fewer contests; they simply wanted to play more on weekends and have games spaced more evenly over a longer season, perhaps by eliminating part of the preseason. The subcommittee will rely on SAAC’s feedback as it prepares a membership survey and discussion topics that will inform the Division III Issues Forum’s centerpiece discussions during the 2016 Convention in San Antonio. 

“Among the many other struggles of managing our busy schedules, midweek travel adds to this challenge,” Ingersoll said. “In most cases, traveling for a competition during the week means you are missing class. While this may not be a big issue the first or second time, it becomes difficult to manage when it happens repeatedly, and can cause student-athletes to fall behind on material. By placing an emphasis on minimizing midweek travel – especially longer trips – when planning out the schedule for the season, student-athletes will not miss as much class time.”