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Division III playing and practice season review moves forward

The DIII Management Council also took official positions on membership-sponsored Convention legislation

The ongoing review of playing and practice seasons in Division III has taken a significant step forward.

The Division III Management Council and its Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee, in a meeting this week in Indianapolis, reviewed data from a recent membership survey and recommended areas of focus for the Division III Issues Forum at the 2016 Convention. The discussions held there will help determine what steps, if any, should be taken to reform rules pertaining to playing and practice seasons.

Based on survey results, the Management Council agreed that the subcommittee should try to hold discussions at the Issues Forum on three major areas: potential standardization of contest exemptions across all sports; exploring new limitations in the regular season; and potentially reducing or modifying the nontraditional segment. Discussions regarding changes to the traditional season will explore limitations on weekday contests,  the appropriate number of contests in baseball and softball, as well as potential split-season models in those sports, among other topics. The nontraditional segment discussions will focus on reducing practice opportunities and replacing the existing segment with skill instruction or strength and conditioning.

The subcommittee didn’t land on these discussion topics in a vacuum. It relied on more than 5,600 survey responses from Division III members as a guide, including input from 2,652 coaches and 2,023 student-athletes. Feedback from hundreds of athletics directors, athletics administrators and university presidents, among others, was also included.

While the various constituencies were divided on several issues, the topics that received the most support among the groups polled included standardizing contest exemptions across all sports, prohibiting preseason until the third week of August and replacing practices in the nontraditional season with strength and conditioning sessions throughout the academic year.

“We were impressed by how many people filled out that survey from all over the membership. That many student-athletes taking the time to complete the survey gives us good data to move forward,” said Lori Runksmeier, Management Council chair and athletics director at Eastern Connecticut State University. “No matter what we do with the results, it was a success as a way to be inclusive. These are topics that people care passionately about.”

Other actions

The Management Council took an official position on legislation proposed by Division III members that will be up for vote at the 2016 Convention. The group voted to endorse legislation that would:

  • Permit student-athletes to access an athlete-only weight room outside of their playing and practice season;
  • Allow coaches to have contact with recruits on the day the recruit is competing (before the competition), as long as it occurs on campus and that campus isn’t the site of competition;
  • Permit off-ice training in ice hockey before the first permissible practice date without affecting the length of the sport’s 19-week season.

Meanwhile, the Management Council opposed legislation that, if adopted at Convention, would:

  • Establish a nontraditional segment in football that would permit as many as seven days of practice with full equipment, including three days of live tackling. The Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports has opposed this proposal, and Management Council members cited health and safety concerns as well as the strain placed on facilities and staff when also voting in opposition.
  • Permit student-athletes to use their athletic ability while participating in institutional fundraising events. Management Council members feared that this exception could too easily be abused, creating a loophole that would permit de facto out-of-season practices.
  • Deregulate restrictions placed on electronic contact with recruits. The proposal seeks to relax restrictions on electronic transmissions between coaches and recruits, and would deem permissible any form of electronically transmitted correspondence, including public or private communication through any social-networking site. “We heard the student-athlete voice, not just the members of national SAAC on this council, but how many people had talked to their own SAACs on their campuses,” Runksmeier said. “My student-athletes, for instance, were totally opposed to social media deregulation. They don’t want coaches that involved in their personal life and I think that’s what this group heard.”

The Management Council also recommended a series of championships enhancements for rowing and wrestling. The recommendation will be passed to the Division III Strategic Planning and Finance Committee, which will decide whether to recommend the enhancements, which would cost more than $50,000 annually, to the Division III Presidents Council for approval.