UTD rep pushes legislation for grad student-athletes
An NCAA Div. III committee is exploring options to allow graduate students to continue their athletic careers at an institution other than their undergraduate university.
The current rule allows graduate students to play — provided they have eligibility remaining — only at the university where they did their undergraduate athletics and degree.
The eligibility criterion allows a player to play for four years over 10 semesters or 15 quarters.
Senior men’s soccer player Michael Darrow said he was surprised about the current rule.
“I had no idea that D-III sports did not allow graduate students to play sports if they had eligibility left (in another university),” Darrow said. “I know guys who have used eligibility in graduate school for D-I to continue playing soccer. So, I hope this legislation gets changed to accommodate graduate students playing D-III sports.”
Darrow said changing the rule to permit graduate students to play in Div. III would be a good thing because he feels that age isn’t a hindrance to playing in the division.
“We had an older guy on our team two years ago (who) still played a role out on the field,” Darrow said. “I don’t think there is any reason that they shouldn’t have the opportunity to continue playing, as long as they have eligibility left.”
The proposal has been approved by the Interpretations and Legislation Committee, and will now be put forth to the Management Council.
Survey and Legislation
Kurt Beron, UTD’s faculty representative for the NCAA, moved the proposal in the Legislative Committee and will be handling it at the national level should it be approved by the Management Council.
The proposal will have to go through two more steps before it will be put to a vote at the national meeting in January 2015.
Beron said there was a growing understanding that in Div. III the focus is on the student part of student-athlete.
The proposal was formed after hearing the results of a Div. III membership survey.
“We surveyed the membership on various issues and one of them addressed the graduate student issue,” Beron said. “And there was sentiment, certainly not unanimous, that a change should be considered.”
The membership of Div. III includes representatives from 450 universities nationwide, and about 170,000 student-athletes who represent 40 percent of the NCAA.
In the survey, 56 percent of the respondents indicated they agreed that graduate students should be permitted to compete at an institution other than from where they received their undergraduate degree.
“The survey question that was asked was not given with any context,” Beron said. ”I’m actually surprised it had as much support as it did given this lack of context.”
Beron said he was interested in the issue because he had seen several situations over the years at UTD, where incoming graduate students who wanted to play were unable to get on the roster.
“The idea now is an educational one, explain why this would be a good rule to adopt,” Beron said. “We have such a mix of schools in division III. We look very different from division II and I.”
Eighty percent of Div. III schools are private and 20 percent are public and vice-versa for Div. I, Beron said.
“Many of the schools don’t have graduate programs, so they may not understand as much the need (for the legislation),” Beron said. “They certainly care about the student as a student, but they aren’t as familiar with the whole graduate student process. So their focus, naturally, is on the undergraduate education.”
The focus on undergraduate education could be why 44 percent of the respondents disagreed that the students should be permitted to pursue their academic careers at a different university.
“The biggest concern would be that the NCAA division III philosophy focuses on the undergraduate student-athlete experience, while this would open the field to include graduate students,” said Jason Hirsch, men’s soccer head coach. “I’m not sure how this would affect D-III negatively though. Honestly, I couldn’t say if there will be any major problems or drawbacks to adding this legislation to D-III.”
Impact of the Legislation
Beron said he expects very few players to be impacted by the change but he said the committee was still gathering statistics for it.
For this spring semester, UTD has 256 student-athletes and four of those are graduate students.
“There could be a few instances where it could come back that someone in a conference who doesn’t have graduate programs could end up facing one of their students at another school, which has a graduate program,” Beron said.
Hirsch said he did not consider this to be a problem and that students must put academics above athletics.
“I believe that (students) need to make the best decision for themselves, and if that means going to graduate school at a conference rival for an education, then so be it,” he said.
The earliest that it could be adopted would be January next year and the rule would be implemented for the 2015-16 academic year, Beron said.
If implemented, it would be a permissive rule. This means that a university or a conference could set more restrictive rules that would hinder the possibility of a graduate student participating in athletics.
Darrow opposed the concept of it being a permissive rule as he felt students should be entitled to four years as athletes.
“I think everyone should be allowed,” he said. “If they are going to pass the legislation then it shouldn’t be a permissive thing school-by-school because everybody deserves the right to play for four years.”