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Publish date: Apr 29, 2011

DIII presidents consider philosophy enhancements

By Gary Brown
NCAA.org

The Division III Presidents Council began a discussion Wednesday and Thursday to determine whether there is any appetite for fortifying the division’s philosophy statement or strengthening the voting requirements necessary to change legislation regarding the division’s core principles.

Served as food for thought were the division’s groundbreaking “white papers” crafted in September 2008 to guide membership growth in lieu of structural change deliberated two years before that when the membership rejected the idea of a new NCAA division or subdividing Division III.

While much of the white papers would end up as the bricks and mortar of the strategic-positioning platform and identity campaign that are going strong today, some of the ideas those papers broached remain unaddressed. 

To kick-start the discussion, the Division III Administrative Committee recently suggested that the presidents consider sponsoring a legislative package for the 2012 Convention that includes the following items identified in the white papers:

  • Amend the philosophy statement to emphasize that Division III athletics are primarily focused on the undergraduate educational experience in a four-year period.
  • Amend the philosophy statement to clarify that initial- and continuing-eligibility standards are best left to institutional and conference autonomy.
  • Amend the philosophy statement to specify a commitment to supporting a student-athlete’s right to meaningful participation in non-athletics pursuits as a method of enriching the overall educational experience.
  • Propose legislation to designate significant financial aid regulations as “division-dominant,” which would require a subsequent two-thirds majority vote to amend.
  • Propose legislation to designate the redshirting prohibition as division-dominant.
  • Propose legislation to establish key playing-season legislation (such as limits applicable to the nontraditional season) as division-dominant.

The Presidents Council talked about pros and cons of all six at its Wednesday meeting and then reconvened on Thursday to decide what to do about them.

At the outset, the presidents do not appear comfortable with the idea of proposing “division-dominant” voting requirements as a way of governance, even on core issues. Several members thought that financial aid issues in particular might rise to that level, but most were uneasy about the approach not only from a terminology perspective but also as a practical matter.

Some felt the terminology could be divisive, which is precisely the opposite of what the white papers were intended to accomplish. One president equated it to being a “referendum.” Others thought that establishing areas of “division dominance” drew an unintended distinction and would be hard to manage if in fact those provisions needed to be reversed or modified in the future.

“Writing the white papers was in retrospect a stroke of genius to initiate an identity that could have been somewhat fractured through the restructuring process several years ago,” said Presidents Council chair Jim Bultman of Hope College. “What I heard at this meeting was that establishing ‘division-dominant’ on core issues seems heavy-handed and has the potential to backfire in terms of our attempt to be cohesive in our identity.”

With that as a backdrop, the presidents were more interested in the first three items that amended the philosophy statement itself. Some members in fact suggested that the philosophy statement itself be established as “division-dominant” in the future. Currently, amendments would require just a simple majority, but the Council may consider proposing that subsequent changes would require a super-majority.

The Presidents Council asked staff to circulate a revised philosophy statement that incorporates relevant amendments to governance groups for additional feedback. Members also considered circulating the division-dominant amendments but decided that there wasn’t enough support from the Council to warrant soliciting feedback on those concepts.

Presidents also agreed to network with their peers about the amendments to the philosophy statement, particularly with members of the Presidents Advisory Group (a group of presidents representing conferences not represented on the Presidents Council or the Management Council).

The Council will consider that feedback at its August meeting and determine future steps, including possible action at the 2012 Convention.

“The takeaway from this meeting is that presidents recognize that the philosophy statement ought to reflect the principles of the division. The current version obviously does that, but the Council has agreed – and the white papers support – that there is room for enhancement,” Bultman said. “However, there doesn’t appear to be the sense that the division-dominant recommendations were necessary, because presidents feel there is widespread agreement philosophically on these principles and how they are articulated legislatively.”

Further vetting of these issues throughout the governance structure and elsewhere will give the Division III membership a chance to see if they agree.

Other highlights

In other action at the Presidents Council’s April 28 meeting, members:

  • Agreed to establish a Division III budget reserve policy that requires the division to maintain in reserve an amount equal to 80 percent of the division’s projected revenue for that budget year. (The division may credit its financial recovery insurance, which includes $10 million in coverage, toward the mandated minimum.)
  • Asked the Division III Committee on Infractions to consider granting the NCAA enforcement staff the discretion to publicly disclose any violation regarding consideration of athletics leadership, ability, participation or performance within the student financial aid awarding process, even if such violation is deemed secondary. The Committee on Infractions has the legislative authority to publicly disclose such violations but has held to a policy of nondisclosure when the violations are considered secondary. The Presidents Council action suggests that Committee on Infractions consider publicizing financial aid violations when warranted, particularly since such disclosure would provide incentive for other institutions to ensure their policies comply with NCAA bylaws. The Presidents Council also endorsed a notice that the NCAA enforcement staff may start including allegations of an institution’s “failure to monitor” or a “lack of institutional control” in future major infractions cases that involve violations of Division III financial aid rules.
  • Discussed policy recommendations from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports and the Committee on Women’s athletics regarding transgender student-athletes. Council members noted that while the policy recommendations successfully address cases where medical treatment is involved (testosterone treatment or testosterone suppression medication), the recommendations do not specifically help institutions in cases where the student-athlete merely declares socially that he or she wishes to be identified, or presents himself or herself as the other gender. The sense of the meeting, however, is that the policy recommendations address cases in which student-athletes have made a medical decision to transition, which necessitates a response due to competitive-equity concerns.
  • Heard a presentation on select aspects of the most recent GOALS study (Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Learning of Students in College). The second version of the GOALS study (the first was in 2006) gathered responses from thousands of current student-athletes across all three divisions about topics ranging from the student-athlete identity construct and reasons influencing college choice to career aspirations and healthy behaviors. Among some of the more relevant findings for Division III:
    • Academic offerings and athletics opportunities are key factors influencing a student’s choice of school, and those two factors carry roughly equal weight for Division III student-athletes.
    • About 55 to 70 percent of respondents would attend the same school if they had it to do all over again. About two-thirds also said they are glad to be at their school, though there are significant differences among sport groups.
    • Generally, Division III student-athletes spend from five to 10 hours more per week on academics than in athletics in-season, which compares favorably to Divisions I and II. Baseball is an exception here, as student-athletes in that sport spend a nearly even amount of time on academics and athletics. Between 8 and 15 percent of respondents in all sports said they would like to spend less time on their sport. (The Presidents Council subsequently referred findings related to time demands to the Division III Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee.)