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New convention brings Division II SAACs together

Division II pulled together campus SAAC leaders in November for its first regional leadership convention. Matt Ward / NCAA

Tracking the pulse of more than 120,000 Division II student-athletes is no small task for the 27 students and recent graduates who make up the national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. But this fall, the group took a substantial step toward strengthening the extended lines of communication with their student-athlete peers nationwide. 

In November, SAAC organized and led the inaugural Division II SAAC Super Region Convention, a leadership event that brought together more than 180 student-athletes and administrators for three days. The participants, hailing from six athletic conferences and one independent institution in the eastern region of the United States, attended new programming that focused on the student-athlete voice, communication between student-athletes and administrators, mental health, time demands, community engagement, social justice and the Division II legislative cycle.

The event was held in conjunction with the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum on Nov. 17-19 at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center outside Washington, D.C.

For David Brantley, a track and field student-athlete at Shippensburg and treasurer of the Raiders’ SAAC, the convention provided a first-time look at the inner workings of the Division II governance process. Before the event, Brantley knew a national SAAC existed but didn’t understand how it operated — or, more importantly, how student-athletes’ campus ideas and concerns trickle to the conference and national SAACs.

“I was shown that what we tell our conference representatives, they take to the national meetings, and they put into place for votes,” Brantley says. “They were able to explain and give examples of how our voice really matters.”

That takeaway was the message national SAAC members had hoped would resonate at the convention, which they planned over the last year with their Division II staff liaisons.

“If your conference has 14 member institutions, oftentimes it’s tough to get that information out effectively to all those campuses,” says Jasmyn Lindsay, SAAC chair and a former softball player at Queens (North Carolina). “We thought: How can we really effect change and make an impact at the campus level?”

The Division II Presidents Council allocated $1 million of the $5.7 million Division II Foundation for the Future funding to enable the SAAC convention annually through 2021, each year in a different region.

Over the three days, the student-athletes were tasked with developing two projects: one that would improve their voice on campus and another that would address student-athlete mental health. Ideas ranged from informative videos about the role of SAAC to advocating for a campus mental health counselor.

The perspectives shared equipped Bluefield State SAAC President Shonte Cargill, who competes in cross country and softball, with ideas for improvements she can pursue on her own campus. “I figured it would be a pretty good idea for me to go and hear from other SAAC representatives what they’re doing at their schools,” Cargill says.

Both Brantley and Cargill went back to their campuses feeling inspired to keep the conversation going.

“It made me realize how much influence and impact we actually have,” Cargill says, “and how much we can change if we actually do speak up.”

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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.