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Shillow’s journey to DII SAAC chair a ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’

As voice of student-athletes, Texas A&M-Commerce senior has helped shape legislation for the division

In his first student-athlete meeting at Texas A&M-Commerce in 2016, Alex Shillow was drawn in by one presentation in particular: the Lions’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Hearing how student-athletes were using their voice to drive initiatives and create change spoke to Shillow, a former class president at his high school. He basically joined SAAC on the spot.

Not long after, Shillow attended a Lone Star Conference SAAC meeting. That experience, he said, really “catapulted” him into a different “leadership mindset.”

“When I attended that first Lone Star Conference meeting, I saw people actually listened to what I had to say. My opinion was valid,” said Shillow, who will be a senior for Division II Texas A&M-Commerce’s football team. “I could see that student-athletes could make change.”

Since then, Shillow has been driven to lead some of that change. He has served as his campus SAAC president since 2017 and as the Lone Star Conference’s representative on the national Division II SAAC since 2018. In January, he was elected as the national Division II SAAC chair for the second year in a row.

“I really wanted to put the student-athlete experience at the forefront of my focus and what I was learning and witnessing and experiencing at my institution and my conference,” he said, “and I wanted to bring that to the national level.”

During his time on the national Division II SAAC, Shillow has witnessed firsthand the influence student-athletes can have in the NCAA’s legislative process. 

For example, take the concepts put forward by the Division II Legislation Committee that would permit student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness. Shillow and two other national Division II SAAC members — Mackenzie O’Neill and Grant Foley — took part in the Legislation Committee meetings that helped shape the concepts that have since advanced through the Division II Management Council and Presidents Council.

The Division II SAAC recently influenced another legislative proposal to allow access to practice and institutional athletics aid for all incoming freshman student-athletes and two-year college transfers, regardless of their initial-eligibility status. The proposal, which will be voted on at the 2021 NCAA Convention, initially included only access to athletics aid. SAAC’s feedback played a significant role in adding access to practice to the proposal.

Even more recently, the Division II SAAC’s position on whether to change the nonchampionship hour limitations during the fall 2020 semester helped keep them the same.

“What’s been rewarding has actually been being in a room and having everyone’s eyes and ears open and on you and ready to listen and learn. I think that’s been rewarding because you get to see how much the Association cares for the student-athlete opinion,” Shillow said. “Not all 120,000 Division II student-athletes can be in a room and voice their opinion, but knowing that I can speak on behalf of so many student-athletes, I think that’s been rewarding. Not many people get that opportunity at any level, so regardless of what divisional SAAC you serve on, it’s an honor to be part of SAAC and be in rooms where people are actually listening to you and seeing their student-athletes and thousands of others through what you’re saying.”

In the future, Shillow said he hopes to serve student-athletes as an athletics director. He currently is a graduate assistant in Texas A&M-Commerce’s development department, after interning in the marketing department the past two years.

Internal experience aside, Shillow said his experiences with SAAC “solidified” his aspirations to become an athletics director — not to mention the networking benefits his time with SAAC has offered.

“Coming into college, I thought, ‘I want to be an AD. That’d be cool. You get to be the coach of the coaches,’” Shillow said, with a laugh. “I think SAAC has really grown my interest and passion about the student-athlete experience. I’ve seen the experience I’ve had, which has been amazing, and I’ve seen the experience other student-athletes have had. Learning about the student-athlete voice through SAAC and how much that can change and cultivate a department is what I want to do.

“Being on national SAAC is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the ones that are lucky enough to do it like myself, I would say I don’t take this for granted. I work as hard as I can to be a realistic voice for all 120,000 student-athletes in Division II to implement and effect real change that will impact all student-athletes.”