Swarthmore student-athletes help determine NCAA policy

Swarthmore’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, composed of members from all of the college’s 22 varsity athletics teams, is known for its efforts to promote community engagement and school spirit and to represent the college in NCAA Division III affairs. The Swarthmore SAAC’s more visible activities include the annual pep rally as well as celebrating Division III Week in the spring.
     The Division III SAAC; composed of student-athletes from across the nation, each representing two athletic conferences in Division III SAAC matters; carries important duties, including the responsibility to affect annual NCAA legislation. In November, Swarthmore’s SAAC representatives voted on several pieces of proposed NCAA legislation regarding continued NCAA play during graduate studies, and were able to ultimately help determine the Division III SAAC’s opinion on the issues of continued participation, which will be presented at the annual Division III Convention in January.
     The Swarthmore SAAC has a noticeable presence at the national level as current Men’s Basketball forward Michael Rubayo ’17 currently represents the Centennial Conference and is in charge of representing the its partner conference, the Colonial States Athletic Conference.
     On behalf of the two conferences, Rubayo attended a Division III SAAC meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana during the second week of November to meet with conference representatives and to participate in the vote on the Division III SAAC’s stance on the proposed NCAA legislative changes.
     “In this meeting, we discussed the pros and cons of this legislation and how we feel SAAC should take a position on it, but then, we actually voted on [the opinions] our institutions gave us,” said Rubayo. “The graduate transfer [rule] has been one that’s a little contentious this year, at least when national SAAC members have discussed it.”
     The proposed rule change would allow NCAA athletes with eligibility remaining after graduation to continue their athletic careers at any NCAA institution during postgraduate studies regardless of division. Currently, Division III athletes are only able to use their eligibility at their initial institution or at a Division I school. Furthermore, Division I and II athletes would be able to use their final years of eligibility at Division III schools. The proposed rule change generated controversy at the Division III SAAC meeting.
     “There was heated discussion. Some people viewed it as unfair because certain schools would just have the natural benefits of having postgraduates … Other members of the committee felt that, if student-athletes were injured and were sidelined for a year, they should be able to continue their Division III experience if that’s what they wanted to do,” said Rubayo of the committee’s debate.
     “I’m planning to graduate in four years, so technically, I’ll only use three years of my eligibility,” said Tom Ferguson ’19, a member of the Men’s Lacrosse team and a team representative on Swarthmore’s SAAC. Ferguson transferred to Swarthmore this fall after spending his first year of college at Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon does not field an NCAA Men’s Lacrosse team, and accordingly, Ferguson will begin his four years of NCAA eligibility this spring as a sophomore and will have a year of eligibility left after his graduation.
      If this legislation passes at the Division III Convention in January, Ferguson would have the opportunity to continue his lacrosse career at any NCAA institution regardless of division. Under the current rules, Ferguson would only be able to use his remaining year of NCAA eligibility during a fifth year at Swarthmore or at a Division I school while participating in a graduate program.
     “[Because of the benefits of] potentially pursuing a graduate degree at another top academic university, athletics don’t factor in too heavily, but it would be great to have that opportunity to use up that fourth year if I did attend a comparable university where I could play lacrosse,” said Ferguson.
     According to the Division III SAAC’s press release, representatives expressed concern that the rule change would lead to more Division I and II players transferring to Division III schools after graduation, but ultimately, it voted in favor of the proposed legislation. Furthermore, the national SAAC voted in favor of all proposed legislative changes, including allowing member institutions to conduct tryouts with potential recruits and continuing to standardize athletic health care practices.
     “The Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has a unique opportunity to speak at the [Division III] convention in January where we get up in front of the 430-plus institutions and share our opinion and why we feel that way. We do so for some of the more contentious stuff,” said Rubayo. According to Rubayo, Adam Hertz has said that eloquent student-athletes have been able to influence the opinions of voters on the fence about rule changes.
     “While the student-athletes don’t actually have a vote, we have a way of sharing our opinions and potentially influencing the outcome,” said Rubayo of the proposed legislation. The proposals will be discussed and voted upon by the 451 schools comprising Division III athletics in January, and if ratified, will go into effect during the fall of 2017.

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