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Student-Athletes Seek Their Voice

If approved at the NCAA Convention, two Division II proposals would enhance the student-athlete voice by providing SAAC with new voting privileges

Holly Roberson (front) and Krista Colburn — also student-athletes at the school — lend a hand at a Thanksgiving food drive.

By now, Roberto “Bubba” Baroniel knows the power of the student-athlete voice, and he’s grown adept at harnessing it. The senior at Nova Southeastern University, a private Division II school near the tip of Florida, has brought new energy and purpose to the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee – a transformation that includes a fourfold growth in members in four years, increased fan attendance at games and thousands of dollars raised for charity. 

Baroniel, who plays baseball for the Sharks, has made his mark at the national level, too. As a member of the national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, he gets a front seat to share opinions on the biggest decisions surrounding college athletics. 

It’s an opportunity student-athletes appreciate, Baroniel is quick to acknowledge. He believes his voice is heard. Yet he welcomes potential legislation that would extend the Division II student-athlete influence, providing added value to their opinions.   

Division II has two related proposals on which members will vote in January at the NCAA Convention: One would give two members of the national student-athlete committee two seats and one joint vote on the Division II Management Council; the other would give the student-athlete committee one vote on the floor at the Convention. 

Roberto “Bubba” Baroniel, above, has put an emphasis on community engagement during his time at Nova Southeastern.

It would be a single vote among hundreds at the Convention, but for Baroniel, the symbolism behind the vote trumps its actual weight. “At the heart of the NCAA is the student-athlete,” he said. “This would just solidify our voice.” 

The proposals grew out of a July summit between the Management Council and the student-athlete committee, where they discussed options for increasing student-athlete involvement in the division’s decision-making process.  

Currently, the national Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee works through conference and campus student-athlete representatives to establish a national position on proposed legislation. A committee member is permitted to speak on the Convention floor but does not have voting privileges. And while the student-athlete committee meets with the Management Council at a summit every year, it does not have in-person representation at council meetings. 

Student-athlete involvement varies across divisions. The national Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has a seat and two votes on the Division III Management Council, while in Division I, the new governance model includes a student-athlete on the Board of Directors and two student-athletes on a new body known as the Council.  

In July, the Division II Management Council recommended sponsorship of the proposal providing the student-athlete committee two seats on Management Council and one vote. The second proposal for a student-athlete vote at the Convention did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority, with Management Council members pointing to the division’s “one institution, one vote” model. 

The student-athlete committee’s executive board wrote a letter asking the Division II Presidents Council to review the issue. “We believe this is a groundbreaking opportunity for a forward-thinking division,” the board wrote. 

The Presidents Council agreed in August, ensuring both proposals will be up for vote at the Convention. 

Armstrong State University President Linda Bleicken said the student-athletes’ thoughtfulness and passion for their role in the division has impressed her. 

“When they arrive at a consensus, it has been thoroughly discussed and carefully considered. For SAAC, consensus does not happen overnight,” Bleicken said. “While I respect the position of the Management Council, I do not believe a SAAC vote would be inconsistent with the ‘one institution, one vote’ perspective. I believe our students, as a recognized group, deserve a collective voice.” 


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.