Guest opinion: NCAA working to improve student-athlete experience


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What does the NCAA stand for? Unfortunately, the answer to that question for most observers is probably overly influenced by recent media reports accusing the organization of exploiting student-athletes and running a corrupt enforcement division. The truth is the NCAA, while not without issues, is often unfairly maligned. This summer, a University of Iowa class traveled to Indianapolis for a hands-on experience with the NCAA that left the students in attendance with a very different image of the organization and its mission than the one the media usually present.

Although I spent nine years as an NCAA investigator, I would never claim the organization has a flawless record. The NCAA faces several well-publicized challenges to its central leadership and core policies, and I am confident the NCAA, as a member-driven organization, will adapt and improve in response to the directives it receives from its constituent schools and conferences, as it has throughout its 107-year history. While the national conversation about the NCAA tends to focus on a few high-profile issues for which the organization is criticized, it is important to not lose sight of the overwhelmingly positive overall impact of the NCAA and its members on the lives of young adults. The vast majority of the NCAA’s 450,000 student-athletes are preparing for careers in business, medicine, law, and other non-athletic endeavors. While doing so, they are able to continue playing sports at a high level, and many receive financial aid to make it all possible thanks in part to the NCAA’s system for revenue generation and distribution that supports opportunities for all student-athletes, not just the fortunate few who perform in front of thousands of fans. What an awesome model — in this profit-driven, results-oriented world we live in, young men and woman can still receive tens of thousands of dollars to educate themselves at NCAA schools while playing sports that, in many cases, only friends and family attend.

As mentioned previously, Iowa students received a behind-the-scenes look at the NCAA’s complex rule book and system for investigating and punishing violators through a new course called “NCAA Rules Compliance and Enforcement,” which included a field trip to this summer’s NCAA Regional Rules Seminar. The seminar is a continuing education conference for administrators in compliance-related jobs on campuses and at conference offices and is rarely attended by students — in fact, our class was the only one in attendance this year. The NCAA staff, as well as many school and conference administrators in attendance, put our students at ease by encouraging their participation in sessions and connecting with them during meals, social receptions, and other breaks. The support our students received during the seminar did not end once we returned to campus — several administrators from the seminar continue to answer student questions and provide career advice through phone calls and emails.

After two days of immersion in such educational sessions as “NCAA Division I Enforcement: Processing Level I and Level II Cases,” and “NCAA Division I Progress Toward Degree and 2-4 Waiver Processing and Best Practices,” our students submitted papers reflecting on their experiences. Despite the technical and unglamorous nature of many seminar sessions and the stereotype of compliance and enforcement staffers as soulless creatures who are out to get student-athletes and coaches, the student-reflection papers unanimously raved about the meaningful connections made with seminar presenters and attendees and the valuable information learned during the sessions. One comment in particular stood out in the reflection papers because it was written by a student-athlete and so perfectly summed up the theme that emerged during the class experience. Katie Nasenbenny, a University of Iowa women’s soccer student-athlete, had the following to say about her favorite seminar session, “Academic Hot Topics”: 

“Because there was so much audience participation, it made it easier for me to join in on the discussion as well. I think the hall was happy to hear from a student-athlete’s perspective regarding some of the topics they are passionate about and trying to perfect. It opened my eyes to the fact that nearly everyone in that room was working so hard to help make my college experience that much better, and that was a very cool feeling.” 

Thank you, Katie, for the important reminder of what the NCAA and its members truly stand for — improving the student-athlete experience — at a time when so many are questioning the organization’s policies and future.

Dan Matheson is a Leisure Studies lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

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