St. John’s University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington recently announced the commencement of the school’s National Collegiate Athletic Association recertification process, an 18-month self-study conducted by various University departments.
The self-study, which was also conducted by St. John’s in 2002 with no conditions assessed, is broken up into three focus areas: Governance and commitment to rules compliance; academic integrity; and gender, equity, diversity and student-athlete well-being.
According to Dr. André McKenzie, the chairman leading the academic integrity subcommittee, the study’s primary purpose is to open up the affairs of athletics to the entire University, including the public.
“Sometimes, at some campuses, they may feel that the athletics program is separate and not fully integrated into the campus,” said Dr. McKenzie, St. John’s Vice President for Student Support Services. “I don’t think it’s reflective here, but athletics can be viewed as in and unto itself.”
The essence of the process is to assure consistency between student-athletes and the general student body. The academic integrity portion studies consistency in admissions, entrance requirements, financial aid and retention rates. University institutional research assists with gathering, comparing and contrasting Federal Graduation Rate data between the student body and athletes at the University.
“Student-athletes should be treated consistently with the student body,” Dr. McKenzie said. “Meaning, what’s good for the student body is good for the athletes, and vice versa.”
St. John’s Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer Tom Nedell heads the compliance subcommittee. Nedell’s team outlines the administration’s role in the athletic program and how they minimize deficiencies in NCAA standards. He feels the university population’s interest in the process is what makes it so important.
“The NCAA is very interested in making sure the whole community gets to participate in this and be aware of the process as it is going on,” Nedell said. “It puts a level of transparency on it that I think it is important. It’s the students that these rules are here to protect so it’s important to get them involved.”
The best way to get students involved was to appoint a student-athlete representative to a supplementary committee. Junior Gavin Buckley, St. John’s lacrosse team’s goalkeeper, helps the process where he can, gathering data, writing reports and giving a much needed student perspective.
“I feel honored just to be a part of it,” said Buckley, an English major with a minor in Government. “[Athletes] are the ones playing and under the NCAA rules. When we do the certification, it helps to have the student-athlete voice.”
Nedell agrees that the process could not be fully effective without hearing the student voice.
“We constantly look for ways to involve students,” Nedell said. “They really get to help determine the future course of some decisions, decisions that can only be determinded by a student who sees it day in and day out.”
The diversity and well-being department, according to Dr. McKenzie, is the most complicated in the self-study. The subcommittee examines Title IX compliance and racial issues within coaching, training and athletic administration.
Again, fairness and consistency is the focal point. The NCAA defines this department’s goal as “conducting the intercollegiate athletics program in a manner designed to protect and enhance the physical and educational well-being of student-athletes.”
Even if no conditions are assessed for this cycle of recertification, the co-chairs agree that this NCAA mandate is absolutely necessary and should be accepted in every major athletics university in the country.
“There have been too many instances where there have been abuses and this process is in place to try and fix that,” Dr. McKenzie said. “For us, you find out where you’re strong and areas that need improvement. You can’t get better unless you look.”
In February of 2010, the NCAA will render its decision for recertification, which would be valid for a ten-year period.