SAN ANTONIO – Eight student-athletes representing their school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) had the opportunity to gain valuable first-hand experience at the 2016 NCAA Convention held over four days in San Antonio last week.
In the fall, Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Commissioner Penny Allen-Cook asked each member school to submit applications on behalf of student-athletes that were interested in a future career in athletic administration and attending the NCAA convention to explore those opportunities.
“Giving our student-athletes the opportunity to see, first hand, how the NCAA governance functions is invaluable,” said Allen-Cook. “The students sat in on the NCAA Division III legislative general business session and MIAA meetings and as a result were better equipped to speak on behalf of the association and conference.
“The students were able to meet other SAAC reps from around the country and meet many contacts that may benefit them as they pursue further education or employment."
SAAC representatives from eight MIAA schools were selected by Commissioner Allen-Cook through the application process to represent both their institutions and the MIAA. The conference utilized grant money from the NCAA to help the student-athletes cover the costs of the four-day conference.
“As a student-athlete who wants to be an Athletic Director in the future, I appreciated the opportunity to see both sides of the coin at the NCAA Convention,” said Lydia Gildea, a softball student-athlete from Calvin.
“Not only did I gain knowledge and interact with others in a way that will make me a better student-athlete, but I was also able to observe, understand, and question the administration side of our world. That is not something that every student-athlete gets the opportunity to do, for which I am extremely thankful.”
The eight student-athletes that represented the MIAA included five women and three men across a variety of sports including softball, cross country, basketball, soccer, volleyball and football. The athletes’ majors included sports management, business administration, education and communications.
“Attending the NCAA convention was a wonderful opportunity for these student-athletes,” said Tim Schoonveld, co-athletic director at Hope. “It provided them with a new set of relationships along with the chance to see how the governance system works.”
The MIAA representatives attended several educational sessions and workshops throughout the four-day conference beginning with a Special Olympics Unified Sport Activity on Wednesday afternoon. Other highlights included the Keynote Luncheon with guest speaker Condoleeza Rice, the 66th United States Secretary of State, as well as the Opening Business Reception that featured student-athletes asking questions of NCAA representatives on stage.
“I thought that the Convention really bridged the gap between who I am as a student-athlete and what the NCAA is as a whole,” added Gildea. “When you are at your school and you are playing your sport, the NCAA can feel like just a big entity that regulates it all.
“But at the Convention I got to meet the man behind the curtain, so to speak. No longer is the NCAA just a regulating body, but it is the group of people who care enough about my sport and my experiences as a student-athlete to make it their job to look out for me.”
Over the final two days the group attended the MIAA Conference meeting on Friday and the NCAA Division III Business Session on Saturday morning that showcased the SAAC “It’s On Us” initiative and video along with proposed NCAA legislation and rules changes.
“The whole experience showed me how much the NCAA cares about student-athletes and how much they value the student voice,” said Bruce Baker, a cross country runner at Olivet. “Before the week I had never met nor seen the other MIAA SAAC representatives, but when I returned home I consider them all my friends, and that was the highlight of my experience.”
Sean Cain, a men’s soccer student-athlete from Adrian, echoed Baker’s sentiments.
“The most important thing I took away from this convention is how much the association values the opinions of the 150 students that attended the convention, and the students in the NCAA,” said Cain. “They definitely take into consideration what we say, because they do not know what it is like to be a student in this day and age.
"I also want to thank the other seven student-athletes from the MIAA that attended with me. They made this trip very enjoyable and I will forever remember them as life-long friends."
Representatives from the NCAA as well as other convention attendees complimented the MIAA on its strong student-athlete representation at the convention. The MIAA athletic administrators in attendance were also impressed with the student-athletes’ involvement and interaction during the event.
"It was wonderful to have the student-athletes with us and it was a great opportunity for them to see the behind the scenes workings of the NCAA and MIAA,” said Steven Rackley, athletic director at Alma. “I thought it was also a great chance for them to learn from each other. All of the them were very professional and a pleasure to work with."
The MIAA will continue to seek opportunities for its student-athletes to have their voices heard and to provide input going forward through SAAC at the institution, conference and national levels in the future.
“It was exciting to watch how easily they connected and to have their input regarding important legislative issues,” added Schoonveld. “I hope that as a league, we can continue to provide growth opportunities like this to our student-athletes. The student-athletes are why we are all in our current roles and spending time getting to know them provides much motivation and inspiration for us all.”