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Publish date: Oct 19, 2011

DIII Council continues text messaging debate

By Gary Brown
NCAA.org

While the Association-wide debate continues on whether to deregulate text messaging in the recruiting process, the Division III Management Council at least is leaning toward opening those gates … to a point.

The discussion during the Council’s Tuesday meeting centered on a proposal from the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Little East Conference (Proposal No. 2-4) to allow for electronically transmitted correspondence (such as text messaging and instant messaging) between prospective student-athletes and college staff and coaches according to the same standard as telephone, email and fax correspondence.

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While Management Council members appear receptive to that idea, there’s not a consensus within the group to support the proposal’s other component, which is to lift the division’s current prohibition on correspondence through social-networking platforms.

That’s why the Council in July proposed an alternative (Proposal No. 2-5) that doesn’t include the social-networking aspect, and members reiterated their support for that measure at this meeting. However, after extensive chatter about the membership-sponsored proposal, the Council decided to take no position – not because the group is “afraid” to do so, as one member pointed out, but because the complexity of how the proposal would be practically applied prompts too many unanswered questions.

That all could change once the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meets in November. The text-messaging proposals will be front and center on the SAAC’s agenda at that time. Based on that feedback, the Management Council will revisit the proposal and could take a different position during its pre-Convention meeting on Jan. 11, three days before the business session.

Council reviews Year 2 of academic reporting pilot

The Division III Management Council heard a preliminary report on the second year of a two-year academic reporting pilot designed to assess the feasibility of collecting and reporting on student-athlete graduation rate information for Division III schools. 

The collection produces a federal graduation rate for student-athletes and the student body, which allows for direct comparison between the two groups. The federal rate is the proportion of students who enrolled as full-time, first-time freshmen who graduated from the same institution within six years of initial enrollment. 

It also produces a Division III Academic Success Rate, which is similar to the Division I Graduation Success Rate and the Division II ASR in that it removes from the cohort students who left the institution in good academic standing before graduation. 

The GSR includes only scholarship student-athletes, while the Division II ASR includes scholarship and non-scholarship student-athletes. The Division III ASR includes all non-scholarship freshmen student-athletes on the roster on the first date of competition.

The first year of the reporting pilot showed federal graduation rates for student-athletes that were greater than rates for the general student body. That trend continued for the second year of pilot data, and those results will be presented at the Convention.

Importantly, more schools (137) submitted complete data for the second year of the pilot than in the first year (115). Over the two years, 157 schools submitted data (95 submitted in both years; 20 did so for the entering class of 2003 but not 2004; 42 submitted only for 2004). While researchers are discouraging direct comparisons between the two cohorts because of their makeup, the cohort of schools in each year are representative of the division in terms of school profile and in student-body graduation rates.

The membership will need to discuss a number of things related to the pilot in the coming months, including whether to continue the reporting in future years. However, one aspect that could have resulted from gathering academic data – that is, whether to use it to develop eligibility standards as is done in Divisions I and II – won’t be happening, assuming the adoption of the Presidents Council’s proposed amendment to the philosophy statement that emphasizes institutional autonomy in setting those benchmarks (Proposal No. 2-10).

“There have been more questions from the membership about the practical aspects of the text-messaging proposals than many of us expected,” said Management Council chair Chris Martin, the commissioner of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. “And the membership is going to have to decide about all of those ramifications. That’s why it wasn’t prudent for the Council to take a position at this time.”

Martin acknowledged that the choice on text messaging appears to be either an “all in” or a toe-in-the-water approach. Most Council members who oppose the social-media element worry about privacy issues – and the ability of a younger generation to effectively manage the controls at their disposal to keep relationships with their future mentors on a professional scale.

Others, though, think separating texting and social media only begs a compliance nightmare. 

“This is already happening,” one member said about the effect of social networking. “We may not like it, but… I’m not sure we can try to legislate a battle that already has been fought.”

Members noted that many admissions offices and other campus departments have aggressively bought into social networking to communicate with students, but some cautioned that such efforts usually are on a broader scope and not one-to-one as recruiting tends to be.

Still others said their coaches report that “they have no choice” but to reach today’s prospects by text rather than email or phone – platforms that young people no longer use.

“The social-networking element may not even be an issue in a couple of years,” Martin acknowledged. “But for right now, at least, not everyone is comfortable with taking down that fence. But as the sponsors have said, if we don’t open it up completely, then we’re going to continue to have to try to hit that ‘moving target’ of how to communicate effectively with prospects.”

All three national SAACs meet Nov. 18-20 in Indianapolis to prepare for the Convention. Text-messaging proposals are being discussed in Divisions I and II, as well. A recent poll on NCAA.org showed that about 70 percent of respondents favored deregulation.

Also a factor in the discussion is the “generation gap,” not only between age groups among the decision-makers but also between student-athletes on the SAAC and prospects just two or three years younger.

“That’s how fast things move,” said Tucker Glass, a lacrosse player at Plattsburgh State who is one of two SAAC members on the Council. “We know there’s a gap even between current SAAC members and current prospects. At the same time, though, the prospects don’t have the benefit of having gone through meetings with athletics administrators and compliance officers about how to present and protect yourself like SAAC members have.”

Other proposals

The Management Council also reviewed – and opposed – three other membership proposals that were properly sponsored and submitted into this year’s cycle.

The one generating the most discussion came from the Midwest Conference and Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (No. 2-6) that seeks to keep student-athletes who have sustained a medically documented, season-ending injury from engaging with the team in any physical practice activities during the traditional season. If they do so, they would use a season of participation. 

Sponsors say that student-athletes in such circumstances should be focused on their health and conditioning, not on improving skills or assisting their teams in practice. But the Council doesn’t like the idea of disengaging the injured player from the team, which members believe is an important part of the rehabilitation process.

The Council also opposed a proposal from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and the Commonwealth Coast Conference (No. 2-8) to exclude one postseason championship event from the declared playing and practice season, and another one from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference and the New England Collegiate Conference (No. 2-7) that would prohibit certified strength and conditioning personnel to conduct workouts on a student-athlete’s required day off.

Other highlights

In other action during the Division III Management Council’s Oct. 17-18 meeting, members:

  • Acknowledged a recommendation from the newly created Joint Legislative Steering Committee (a small group composed of Management and Presidents Council members charged with delineating strategic direction for the Presidents Council and more operational matters for the Management Council) to continue presenting legislative proposals at the NCAA Convention with a single position from the governance structure (with the understanding that positions from the respective committees within the structure would continue to be recorded in their reports, as well as in NCAA News stories about those meetings). The Presidents Council also will discuss this issue at its Oct. 27 meeting.
  • Acknowledged that the Division III Championships Committee, after reviewing budget priorities that identified attendance of the “institutional administrator” at championships as a lower priority (as opposed to initiatives that more fully fund championships participation), decided that the administrator’s attendance will be highly encouraged but that fines previously in place for not attending the coaches and administrators meetings will no longer be assessed.
  • Heard from NCAA President Mark Emmert, who updated the group on reform efforts resulting from a Division I presidential retreat in August. Emmert also encouraged similar presidential leadership in Division III, not because there are the kinds of problems in Division III that currently need to be addressed in Division I, but because of the high proportion of students who participate in athletics at Division III schools. Emmert noted that at his last post as president at the University of Washington, varsity athletes composed about 2 percent of the student body. “At many of your institutions, it’s almost half,” Emmert told Council members. “If half of my student body did any one thing, I’d want to know a lot about it.” Emmert also acknowledged the Division III identity initiative and urged the Management Council and other groups to continue carving out what makes Division III distinctive. “Focus on what makes Division III athletics attractive to athletes in any division,” he said. “Focus on what’s distinctive about the integration of athletics and the campus experience at Division III schools.” Emmert added that he would encourage better data “on how to tell the Division III academic story.”