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Critical Thinking

DII tries to unravel complexities of compliance

One Division II bylaw. Thirty pages of rules. Thirty minutes. Go.

Such was the framework for an exercise taken on by a small cadre of Division II athletics administrators in December when they gathered at the NCAA national office to study the state of Division II compliance. The athletics directors, conference commissioners and compliance personnel were tasked with dissecting each rule in Bylaw 13 — the section in the Division II manual dedicated to recruiting — and identifying legislation that may no longer be practical or correctly monitored on campus.

For many, the activity yielded surprising results: Opportunities abounded for deregulating or tweaking rules to make them more realistic for Division II. “We were whittling it down to the stuff that is actually important,” says Scott Larson, the senior associate athletics director for compliance at Lubbock Christian. “They gave us 30 minutes, and we didn’t get through Bylaw 13.”

While merely designed to get administrators thinking critically about Division II rules, the exercise could be a precursor to actual and robust legislative changes to come. The 15 administrators in attendance that day make up the first Division II Culture of Compliance Think Tank, charged over the next year with addressing challenges facing Division II compliance offices. The think tank will continue its work via quarterly teleconferences and plans to conclude their review at a summit next December.

The need for a comprehensive review became apparent through a collaboration between Division II staff and the National Association for Athletics Compliance, from which outreach efforts to compliance personnel revealed a host of common concerns. Many of the administrators felt spread too thin, as the only person in their athletics department handling all compliance responsibilities while also juggling other roles, from academic advising to game operations to marketing. With so many other duties, compliance-related tasks often fell to the end of their daily to-do list, they said. Yet at the same time, they know those compliance duties, which include ensuring hundreds of student-athletes are certified to compete and correctly awarded financial aid, are not to be taken lightly.

“It’s a lot of work,” Larson says. “And people don’t realize it because they don’t see it every day. We’re not in the newspaper unless something goes wrong. There’s no box score.”

NCAA data also hints to challenges. In the 2014-15 academic year, 65 Division II schools did not self-report a single violation for their athletics department. Fifty schools the following year claimed to be violation-free. On the surface, such numbers might seem to be a point of pride, but to members of the think tank they tell a different story. “If they’re not reporting violations, then we’re concerned that they don’t have the policies and procedures in place to catch those violations,” says Kirsten Ford, the assistant commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. “People are going to make mistakes. And we want to see that you’re reporting those mistakes and you’re learning from them.”

Think tank members predict their review could lead to deregulation of certain Division II bylaws, which would alleviate the burden on compliance administrators, cut back on paper pushing and sharpen the focus on rules that matter most. They also hope it will create better understanding and awareness of the compliance administrator’s role among presidents, chancellors and senior-level campus administrators.

They already are sensing progress. After the meeting in December, several administrators who don’t work in compliance admitted that their eyes had been opened to the breadth of the job. Jacqie McWilliams, the commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and former chair of the Division II Management Council, was reminded about the importance of providing assistance — as well as a listening ear — to people in these roles. 

“Compliance is an ongoing nonstop revolving door of administration that sometimes gets left behind,” she says. “As leaders, it’s our responsibilities to provide the tools and resources and be good listeners on what they’re dealing with so they can do their jobs effectively.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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