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By Gary Brown
How to approach what may be the next big discussion item for Division III began taking shape last week when the Interpretations and Legislation Committee recommended appointing a representative working group to consider whether an ever-expanding and demanding recruiting environment should be reined in.
Meeting Feb. 9 in Indianapolis, the committee asked staff to develop a proposal for a group that would draw upon expertise from a number of constituencies to figure out a structure that addresses work/life balance and competitive equity under the Division III strategic-positioning platform’s desire for a collegiate experience that is “proportional.”
The idea is for the ILC to review the working group parameters in March and then send them to the Management Council for initial review in April. If approved, the working group would attempt to develop recommendations that Division III members could discuss at the issues forum at the 2013 Convention. Any legislative proposals emanating from that could be considered at the 2014 Convention.
The Management Council asked the ILC to get the ball rolling after a Division III educational session at the 2012 Convention clearly demonstrated that the current recruiting environment is a concern. When asked, in fact, most of the 300 attendees at the session said that they would support a recruiting calendar model, similar to what exists in Division II, as a way to moderate what has become a hectic culture.
While there are far more questions than answers at this point, the factors that contribute to the chaos are becoming clearer. Al Bean, the athletics director at Southern Maine who serves as president of the National Association of Division III Athletics Administrators, introduced the Convention discussion by calling recruiting “a once almost casual activity limited to a few sports that now is a critical program element that dominates every sport and never seems to stop.”
Fueling the arms-race recruiting environment are institutions that rely on athletics to boost enrollment, a number of growing technological resources, and an accelerated youth sports culture dominated by travel teams more than the traditional scholastic approach.
At the Convention session, the two primary issues that were cited as potential areas where NCAA rules could help were recruiting calendars and evaluations at nonscholastic events. The calendars could provide welcome work/life boundaries for Division III coaches, while evaluations at nonscholastic events could help with recruiting efficiencies, though perhaps at a cost. While some attendees at the Convention session appeared to like the convenience of the “one-stop shopping” of nonscholastic events, others were concerned about how club sports are evolving, squeezing out scholastic sports and fueling the sport-specialization culture, which could be viewed as inherently counter to the Division III philosophy.
While the Interpretations and Legislation Committee recognized the importance of both concerns, members acknowledged that any review of the recruiting environment likely would be much broader. As to the nonscholastic events specifically, the ILC recognized the importance of knowing which sports are more greatly influenced by the club sports scene, as well as how home-schooled students would be affected.
The committee is suggesting a working-group model because the recruiting environment involves so many areas of the campus, especially given that student-athletes make up a quarter or a third of the student body at most Division III schools. The ILC recommends including admissions personnel and enrollment VPs in addition to athletics administrators and coaches. In addition, the committee would like working group members to include those who wear several hats on campus (for example, an AD who also coaches, or a coach who also handles compliance, or who also coaches a youth or club team).
“We’re essentially at the starting blocks of an important discussion,” said ILC chair Darryl Sims, the athletics director at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. “We believe a broadly representative working group is the right approach rather than simply leaving this discussion to the governance structure. It’s important for us to gather as much input from as many constituencies as we can, since recruiting touches so many aspects of the Division III model.”
Sims said it will be critical for the working group to define the problem before developing recommendations. Many people are couching their concerns under a “work/life balance” umbrella, but that means different things to different people, Sims said. The competitive-equity component complicates matters, as well.
“The working group will need to find a cornerstone, or a theme upon which to base its recommendations,” Sims said. “Is the primary motivator the work/life balance or competitive equity? Perhaps the focus is on recruiting and its impact on the proportional experience our strategic platform suggests. The group is going to need a home base of some sort.”
The ILC recommended that the working group report directly to the Management and Presidents Councils.
The Interpretations and Legislation Committee also reviewed Proposal No. NC 2012-15, which was referred back to the ILC by the Management Council after it was moved for separate consideration during the business session at the 2012 Convention.
The noncontroversial legislation approved last year increased the maximum limits for athletics participation awards for seniors by $100 and by $50 for all other participation awards, but the moving delegate at the Convention objected to its passage, stating that it was not the proper economic environment to increase the maximum value of awards.
A subsequent vote ratified the proposal, but the margin (231-210-19) was such that the Management Council decided it was appropriate for the ILC to revisit the legislation.
While ILC members acknowledged the economic concerns, they also noted that it is permissive legislation that doesn’t give any school a competitive advantage.
The committee considered bringing the matter back as legislation for the 2013 Convention and letting the membership decide, but instead chose to keep the legislation in place and let the membership submit an amendment if desired.
In other action at the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee’s Feb. 9 meeting, members: