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Fund aims to help DII schools add academic advisors

For academic advisors in athletics, the Division II “life in the balance” motto resonates at a practical level. Effectively shepherding student-athletes to the graduation finish line requires a nuanced understanding of both the academic requirements of the university and the academic requirements of Division II — a balance that gives student-athletes the best shot at success.

However, finding room in athletics department budgets to fund academic advisors with that dual expertise is a challenge for many Division II schools. An NCAA survey sent to Division II athletics directors in November 2018 showed that 56% of the 165 respondents did not have an academic advisor on staff in athletics; instead, their student-athletes relied solely on the advising services offered to the general student body. The athletics directors indicated a desire for improved athletics academic advising resources on their campuses, with the vast majority noting that seed money to fund new advising positions would be most beneficial.

Division II leaders heard them and responded. Starting this academic year, Division II has allocated $150,000 in annual funds to directly support athletics academic advising positions on campuses. The allocation has been added to the funding pool for the Division II Strategic Alliance Matching Grant Program, which helps schools add a new mid- to senior-level administrative position in athletics to be held by an ethnic minority or woman. While the majority of the $775,000 grant funding can be used to support a variety of athletics administrative positions, the new $150,000 slice of the pie is dedicated solely for schools adding an athletics academic advisor to staff.

For Christina Whetsel, assistant athletics director for compliance and academics at Augusta and chair of the Division II Academic Requirements Committee, this increased focus on academic advising in Division II directly supports the ultimate goal — student-athlete graduation.

“Regardless of the number of athletes you have, I do think that having someone well-versed in the academic requirements of Division II and the academic requirements of the university is vital in making sure your athletes are successful to get that degree,” Whetsel says.

The Division II Presidents Council, with guidance from the Academic Requirements Committee, allocated the dollars for academic advising from a pool of $1.1 million earmarked for academics, health and safety, and inclusion.

“We debated the best way to make a long-term impact with the funding, and we realized one of the challenges for any student-athlete at a small university is that there’s usually not a dedicated academic advisor sitting within the athletics office,” says Tim Ladd, the faculty athletics representative at Palm Beach Atlantic and a member of the Academic Requirements Committee. “The idea was to help staff a role that is usually not in the budget at a Division II school.”

University or departmental advisors don’t always know the rules around NCAA eligibility and the Division II progress-toward-degree requirements, Ladd says. That’s in part why his school this year added a new position in athletics focused heavily on academic planning and monitoring academic progress. This position was funded by another Division II grant: the Ethnic Minorities and Women’s Internship Grant.

Other schools looking to enhance their academic advising services for student-athletes can apply for the Division II Strategic Alliance Matching Grant through Jan. 30. The allocation is enough to fund a maximum of three academic advising positions each year. More information on the grants is available here.

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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.