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O’Brien addresses issues facing Division II

Academic review among top priorities for new Presidents Council chair

By David Pickle

West Texas A&M President Pat O’Brien became chair of the Division II Presidents Council at the conclusion of the 2012 Convention.

O’Brien is especially well-suited to the role, having served a year as Council vice chair, chair of the Division II Planning and Finance Committee, and also as chair of the Division II Long-Range Projections Task Force.

Primary topics for the next year include a thorough review of Division II academic requirements, various diversity initiatives and continued efforts to reduce administrative burden.

O’Brien recently shared his thoughts on those and other issues in an interview with

Question: What are the main priorities for Division II for the next year?

Answer: There are a number of interesting initiatives that will be addressed this next year to include those spelled out in our 2012 Division II priorities.

  • Academic Requirements. Through the Division II Academic Requirements Committee, we will conduct a comprehensive assessment of initial-eligibility, two-year transfer and progress-toward-degree requirements. The review should ensure that academic requirements align with the Division II philosophy and prepare student-athletes to attain a college degree.
  • Diversity Initiatives. In collaboration with the Division II Diversity Project Team, the NCAA Inclusion Office and other appropriate committees, the division will work to implement the initiatives and strategies recommended from the NCAA Inclusion Summit and the Division II Minority Coaches Summit. Additionally, emphasis will be placed on the diversity and inclusion area of the Division II conference grant program to ensure conferences and institutions are moving forward in implementing a culture of inclusion in the division. Finally, the division will work to coordinate a summit in 2012 focused on the representation of female coaches in Division II.
  • Ease of Burden Review. With the passage of the first set of legislative proposals in the “ease of burden” package, Division II committees will continue to look for procedures and various ways to try to alleviate more of the compliance and financial burdens that current regulations place on NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.
  • Enforcement Process. This review will concentrate on where the division should focus its efforts in the enforcement process and the penalty structure to determine what is important to the integrity of Division II intercollegiate athletics.
  • Measuring the Success of Division II Initiatives. The Planning and Finance Committee, working with the appropriate Division II committees and associations, will make certain the goals and priorities of the Division II strategic plan, and the related initiatives to support those goals and priorities, are accurately measured to ensure implementation and success of the initiatives.
  • 2013 Chancellors and Presidents Summit. We will prepare for the 2013 Chancellors and Presidents’ Summit.
  • Championships Review of Selection Criteria. The Championships Committee has been charged with reviewing selection criteria to determine methods that would encourage schools to schedule in-region, nonconference competition and to discourage schools from scheduling contests that will not aid the sports committees in the selection of teams for the national championships.
  • Championships Festival. The division will conduct its third spring championships festival (sixth overall) May 14-19 in Louisville, Ky., featuring the sports of men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, softball, and men’s and women’s tennis.

Foremost among my priorities is to seek greater input and involvement of the presidents and chancellors in the decision-making processes of the division. I know that each president and chancellor is keenly aware of the importance and impact of intercollegiate athletics on their respective campuses and communities, and each of their institutions have made significant commitments to intercollegiate athletics and to the participating student-athletes. Their voice needs to be heard.

Q: The Ease of Burden initiative focused on recruiting this year, but the Legislation Committee is continuing its examination of other areas. Is there a particular segment of Division II administration you would like to see addressed through the Ease of Burden initiative?

A: I want us to look at everything.

Q: Speaking of the Ease of Burden legislation, the membership overwhelmingly supported expanding in-person and electronic contact opportunities in recruiting. At the same time, various groups seem concerned about the potential for abuse. How can those concerns be addressed?

A: I believe the concerns can be addressed in several different ways. First, I am confident presidents and chancellors will continue to articulate their expectations regarding the ethical and professional manner in which student-athletes, all students, are recruited. Second, athletics directors need to reinforce these expectations through their messaging and monitoring activities.

At each of our institutions, we already have a good bit of experience in using electronic means of recruiting students. Our admissions offices and colleges/departments routinely use texting, tweeting, social media, email, etc. in recruiting students. We can certainly share best practices with our coaches.

Q: With the new legislation governing conference membership in place, what’s the next step for adding member schools in certain sections of the country?

A: We need to ensure conferences are aware of the many resources that Division II has to assist them to entice additional schools in selected regions of the country to apply for membership. Additionally, we need to devise appropriate incentives for conferences to admit additional schools into existing conferences.

Q: During the Convention, many Division II presidents said they wanted to become more involved in overseeing rules compliance. What level of involvement do you believe they want?

A: I will need to follow-up with the presidents who expressed such a desire to determine exactly what they want. I plan to send surveys out to our various constituent groups to seek their views on a variety of issues.

I do know that many of the presidents and chancellors plan to become much more involved in Title IX compliance.

Q: Over the next year, Division II will conduct a comprehensive review of its academic requirements. One of the key issues is how to modify the standards in a way that can increase graduation rates without disparately affecting economically disadvantaged cohorts. How does the division’s leadership resolve this dilemma?

A: Therein lies the challenge. Graduation rates can be affected from a policy perspective in several different ways. A policy change that can be implemented is to raise admission standards. A downside of that approach is that certain groups of prospective students could be disproportionally, negatively impacted. Other policy changes that could be enacted are related to how we deal with students once they have been admitted and the incentives we create to encourage active members to increase graduation rates.

Q: One of the key stages in examining possible changes to academic requirements will be the Chancellors and Presidents Summit at the 2013 Convention. This will be the fourth Division II presidential summit. Can you talk about the effectiveness of this approach and discuss why chancellors and presidents should make a special effort to attend this event?

A: The principal advantage of a Summit is that it brings together individuals who have a common interest – student-athletes success – to learn from each other. We have very smart and creative chancellors and presidents in Division II and we, as individuals and as a division, can learn much from them.

Q: Before becoming Presidents Council vice chair and now chair, you headed the Division II Long-Range Projections Task Force. The recommendations from that group formed the budgeting approach for Division II through 2023-24. Is there any part of the Division II long-range budget that you wish people understood better?

A: I do believe most individuals who examine the long-range budget recognize the principal aspects of it. However, there are some provisions that are not so obvious.

  • Division II championships remain the top priority of the division as budget decisions are made. Furthermore, future championship expenditures are budgeted to grow at 2 percent annually. Built into the championships budget is a per diem increase of $5 every other year, and funding for growth of the division.
  • The long-range budget also increases – at 2 percent annually – the dollars available for other major Division II initiatives, such as the Division II Enhancement Fund, the conference grant program, the Division II major grant programs and other strategic initiatives.
  • The budget also continues to fund through 2023-24 important initiatives, such as the championship and regular-season television broadcasts and the Division II Championship Festivals.
  • What is not so obvious is that the long-range budget provides funding for membership growth (both new institutions and new conferences) while maintaining current active member benefits, particularly funding for the division’s enhancement fund and conference grant program.
  • Lastly, funding was provided to purchase a business interruption insurance policy. With this insurance policy and the targeted reserves that have been set aside, the division is positioned well if an unexpected event occurs that affects the yearly revenue guaranteed to the division.

Q: What’s the best thing about Division II committee service?

A: Service on a Division II committee provides individuals the opportunity to have a significant, positive impact on the college experience of student-athletes – an experience that each student-athlete will remember vividly for the rest of their lives. I believe it is a blessing for us to be afforded the opportunity to be a part of the lives of our students, to mentor them as they mature, to experience with them their achievements and to hear of their successes after they graduate.