The Division I Council is playing an active role in discussions about time demands placed on student-athletes and is working with the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences to develop legislation that could alter the college athletics experience for both students and coaches.

The renewed focus on the student-athlete experience comes in the wake of a January decision by the five conferences to delay rule changes related to the time demands of college sports in favor of a more thorough, methodical approach that includes the rest of the division. The conferences resolved to continue conversations with coaches, college athletes and administrators and develop legislation that will be adopted no later than January 2017.

The Council continued its discussion of time demands with renewed intensity during its Feb. 9-10 meeting in Indianapolis, voting to embark on a collaborative process with the five conferences that will build on information-gathering started by the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee last fall.

The students conducted a student-to-student survey that garnered more than 28,000 responses. Administrators applauded the student committee’s work and plan to use the data to develop legislative change over the coming months.

Council chair Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation at Northwestern University, clarified where the issue falls on the Council’s priority list.

“The question of student-athlete time demands is our absolute top priority. This is an opportunity for the Division I Council to come together and work collaboratively with the autonomy conferences,” Phillips said. “Whether you play in a 100-seat venue or a 105,000-seat stadium, this is about all of our young men and women and the experience we hope to provide for them in college. It calls for a grass-roots approach across all 346 Division I institutions building on the tremendous work SAAC has done.”

Division I members will move toward rule changes in a deliberate way along a set timeline. One early goal: to complete a second survey that includes coaches and administrators as well as student-athletes. The Council and autonomy conferences also plan to begin collecting feedback from conferences; developing concepts for relieving some of the time demands required by competing in athletics at the Division I level; creating legislative proposals the five autonomy conferences and potentially the Council can consider;  and, ultimately, voting on proposals no later than the 2017 NCAA Convention.

The survey, intended to enhance the previous efforts spearheaded by students, will gather additional information from coaches, faculty, senior woman administrators and others, including compliance and academics professionals and administrators involved in sport science. Student-athletes also will have an additional opportunity to provide feedback on topics not included in the survey distributed by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Officials hope coaches and students from every sport will be well-represented.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the information-gathering stage will be key to the success of the process, and that both coaches and students need to be a part of a conversation that has the potential to change the culture of Division I athletics.

“We really need to do a very good job of not only notifying coaches and informing them but forcing them into the dialogue. We’ve always had a built-in belief that you can prosper by working harder, and that mostly means putting in more hours. Not everybody is going to be wildly excited about reductions in practice, changing travel policies, etc.,” Bowlsby said. “In some ways it feels a little bit paternalistic to say, ‘Yes we know what’s best for you, student-athletes,’ and ‘We know what’s best for the enterprise, coaches.’ We need to be cautious. It’s a time that cries out for rules federation. We will have to be open-minded to the fact that we can’t govern field hockey and football with the same rules. It’s a huge undertaking, without any question.”

Dustin Page, co-chair of the national Division I SAAC and a law student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agreed that a sport-by-sport examination was prudent, but he cautioned administrators to frame the next survey appropriately. Coming so quickly on the heels of the SAAC-sponsored survey and even conference surveys on this topic, he said, could create confusion among students who believe they’ve already completed a time demands survey. He also asked that student-athlete representatives who sit on national NCAA committees continue to be a key voice in the legislation development stages.

“Additionally, after we collect the results, they should be brought back to the national SAAC so we can discuss it,” Page said. “A lot of people are working on this issue, and I don’t want SAAC to be lost.”

Indeed, in addition to the Council, SAAC and the five autonomy conferences, several other Division I committees are considering ways to improve the college experience for student-athletes: the Student-Athlete Experience Committee, the Committee on Academics, the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee, the Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee and the Football Oversight Committee.

The goal is to unify the work of all the groups in a package of proposals that fall in the areas of autonomy, as well as areas of shared governance. The Council will work with the five conferences to get feedback in a variety of areas, including:

  • How athletics activities are counted and the 20-hour weekly limit on such activities.
  • Playing seasons.
  • Time demands outside the regular season.
  • Opportunities for additional focus on academics and career development.
  • Travel.

The Council will remain an active part of conversations as Division I moves toward a culture shift members acknowledge will be substantial.

“This could be really life-altering for our industry. … Understand that this is a big, big thing,” said Council member Bill Chaves, athletics director at Eastern Washington University. “We need to get our coaches and student-athletes on board.”


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