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Publish date: Oct 20, 2011

DII FARs take leadership to the next level

By David Pickle
NCAA.org

After a weekend at the Division II Faculty Athletics Representatives Advanced Leadership Institute, participants came away with marching orders and a simple message.

The marching orders: Develop a document describing a model faculty athletics representative. The simple message: Spread your wings and spread the word about the value of Division II and college athletics.

Although it was the seventh overall institute for Division II FARs, it was the first to feature an advanced curriculum involving participants from previous institutes. A total of 16 FARs were invited to attend, although one was unable to participate because of a family emergency.

The institute, conducted Oct. 14-16, marked only the beginning of work on the model document. Even so, a first draft was completed at the institute. The work will continue through the year, with eventual approval expected next year by the Division II Presidents and Management Councils. When adopted, it will join similar documents describing model Division II athletics programs, conference offices and strategic communications.

As for communications, the FARs received guidance from Erik Christianson, NCAA director of public and media relations.

Christianson stressed the need for communication to be strategic. As such, it should be:

  • Planned and deliberate.
  • Based on integrated actions and messages.
  • Leadership driven.
  • Credible, useful and persuasive.
  • Effects-based.

In addition, strategic communications should directly advance the organization’s mission.

While meshing those objectives seems complicated, Christianson said it comes down to understanding and believing in college sports (and Division II in particular) and being willing to share that belief with others.

Bellarmine’s Ann Jirkovsky, a participant at the institute, said FARs have no trouble buying into the story.

“I think most faculty see the value of athletics to develop students as leaders,” she said. “They see that it complements what we do in the classroom and that it’s an important part of the collegiate experience and that it adds to student life.”

And yet she acknowledges that faculty representatives have not advocated aggressively for college athletics or for Division II.

“Faculty wear so many hats on campus,” she said. “I think sometimes just the extra time getting out there and communicating to the public isn’t something that automatically jumps to the top of things to do. And sometimes you worry about who you’re representing. Are you representing the whole institution or are you representing yourself. So how do you put it out there?”

FARs at the institute identified those same concerns in a discussion that followed Christianson’s presentation. However, a realization may have emerged many advocacy opportunities don’t have to be the product of deep, time-consuming thought.

Francis Marion FAR Allen Clabo told about how his school put together a brief announcement about his selection to the advanced institute. That news release let to an invitation to a local talk radio show to discuss his role as an FAR and his selection to the institute.

Hawaii Pacific’s Barb Hannum hasn’t tackled heavy policy questions, but she has helped promote her program at every opportunity. She’s been especially successful finding common cause with the other Division II institutions on the Islands (“Make A Swish for Make A Wish”) and also partnering with Division I’s University of Hawaii, Manoa.

“In our geographic region, there’s so much diversity that if we can find some unifying threads and make that story a little bit bigger across the conference, that really helps get the message out as we tell the story of Division II,” Hannum said.

And if it goes well, everybody’s a winner.

“I think people feel by joining forces to tell a common story, that might get us off the back page – especially if you’re in a region where a Division I school is the only show in town and we’re relegated to the back page,” Hannum said. “But if we can show how the four schools in the Islands are coming together for community engagement or even just a fun event, a social event, then that helps promote and get a little visibility.”

As for the weightier stuff, Christianson advised the FARs to position themselves as experts and to pay attention to the issues.

“It’s OK to tell people, ‘Hey, this is going on now. It might be interesting to talk about,’ ” Christianson said. The range of platforms could include local media, but he said FARs also should remember the school’s internal publications, the alumni magazine or even the board of trustees meeting. He also reminded them of NCAA platforms such as NCAA.org, NCAA.com and NCAA Champion magazine.

Above all, Christianson said to have faith in the message.“If you have a good story to tell,” Christianson told the group, “it will go places.”