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By David Pickle
West Texas A&M President Pat O’Brien became chair of the Division II Presidents Council at the conclusion of the 2012 Convention.
O’Brien is especially well-suited to the role, having served a year as Council vice chair, chair of the Division II Planning and Finance Committee, and also as chair of the Division II Long-Range Projections Task Force.
Primary topics for the next year include a thorough review of Division II academic requirements, various diversity initiatives and continued efforts to reduce administrative burden.
O’Brien recently shared his thoughts on those and other issues in an interview with NCAA.org.
Question: What are the main priorities for Division II for the next year?
Answer: There are a number of interesting initiatives that will be addressed this next year to include those spelled out in our 2012 Division II priorities.
Foremost among my priorities is to seek greater input and involvement of the presidents and chancellors in the decision-making processes of the division. I know that each president and chancellor is keenly aware of the importance and impact of intercollegiate athletics on their respective campuses and communities, and each of their institutions have made significant commitments to intercollegiate athletics and to the participating student-athletes. Their voice needs to be heard.
Q: The Ease of Burden initiative focused on recruiting this year, but the Legislation Committee is continuing its examination of other areas. Is there a particular segment of Division II administration you would like to see addressed through the Ease of Burden initiative?
A: I want us to look at everything.
Q: Speaking of the Ease of Burden legislation, the membership overwhelmingly supported expanding in-person and electronic contact opportunities in recruiting. At the same time, various groups seem concerned about the potential for abuse. How can those concerns be addressed?
A: I believe the concerns can be addressed in several different ways. First, I am confident presidents and chancellors will continue to articulate their expectations regarding the ethical and professional manner in which student-athletes, all students, are recruited. Second, athletics directors need to reinforce these expectations through their messaging and monitoring activities.
At each of our institutions, we already have a good bit of experience in using electronic means of recruiting students. Our admissions offices and colleges/departments routinely use texting, tweeting, social media, email, etc. in recruiting students. We can certainly share best practices with our coaches.
Q: With the new legislation governing conference membership in place, what’s the next step for adding member schools in certain sections of the country?
A: We need to ensure conferences are aware of the many resources that Division II has to assist them to entice additional schools in selected regions of the country to apply for membership. Additionally, we need to devise appropriate incentives for conferences to admit additional schools into existing conferences.
Q: During the Convention, many Division II presidents said they wanted to become more involved in overseeing rules compliance. What level of involvement do you believe they want?
A: I will need to follow-up with the presidents who expressed such a desire to determine exactly what they want. I plan to send surveys out to our various constituent groups to seek their views on a variety of issues.
I do know that many of the presidents and chancellors plan to become much more involved in Title IX compliance.
Q: Over the next year, Division II will conduct a comprehensive review of its academic requirements. One of the key issues is how to modify the standards in a way that can increase graduation rates without disparately affecting economically disadvantaged cohorts. How does the division’s leadership resolve this dilemma?
A: Therein lies the challenge. Graduation rates can be affected from a policy perspective in several different ways. A policy change that can be implemented is to raise admission standards. A downside of that approach is that certain groups of prospective students could be disproportionally, negatively impacted. Other policy changes that could be enacted are related to how we deal with students once they have been admitted and the incentives we create to encourage active members to increase graduation rates.
Q: One of the key stages in examining possible changes to academic requirements will be the Chancellors and Presidents Summit at the 2013 Convention. This will be the fourth Division II presidential summit. Can you talk about the effectiveness of this approach and discuss why chancellors and presidents should make a special effort to attend this event?
A: The principal advantage of a Summit is that it brings together individuals who have a common interest – student-athletes success – to learn from each other. We have very smart and creative chancellors and presidents in Division II and we, as individuals and as a division, can learn much from them.
Q: Before becoming Presidents Council vice chair and now chair, you headed the Division II Long-Range Projections Task Force. The recommendations from that group formed the budgeting approach for Division II through 2023-24. Is there any part of the Division II long-range budget that you wish people understood better?
A: I do believe most individuals who examine the long-range budget recognize the principal aspects of it. However, there are some provisions that are not so obvious.
Q: What’s the best thing about Division II committee service?
A: Service on a Division II committee provides individuals the opportunity to have a significant, positive impact on the college experience of student-athletes – an experience that each student-athlete will remember vividly for the rest of their lives. I believe it is a blessing for us to be afforded the opportunity to be a part of the lives of our students, to mentor them as they mature, to experience with them their achievements and to hear of their successes after they graduate.