In Division III NCAA athletics, each school has a small collection of mandated individual and collective leadership roles. In typical higher education form, they are called by their acronyms:
AD — Athletic Director — This individual has direct oversight of the athletic program. The AD is responsible for guaranteeing compliance with NCAA guidelines, for maintaining institutional control of the athletic program, and most importantly protecting the wellbeing of student athletes.
FAR — Faculty Athletics Representative — This is a faculty member who has direct or indirect responsibility for ensuring that all student athletes meet eligibility requirements for financial aid, practices, and competitions. This individual reviews and reports on the academic integrity of each team and the program overall, and on most campuses helps students and coaches to navigate scheduling conflicts between competitions and academic events.
SWA — Senior Women’s Administrator — This is technically the highest-ranking female member of an athletics staff, but at institutions with a female AD, another female colleague is typically assigned this role. This position was created as an equity effort in 1981, which was the first year the NCAA sponsored women’s championships. The SWA is expected to play an active leadership role in the governance of each athletic program.
SAAC — Student-Athlete Advisory Committee — These exist on the institutional, conference, and national levels. Each comprises student athletes who provide student insights and feedback about rules, policies, and practices that affect the student athlete experience. Campus SAACs often coordinate service projects and events to celebrate their peers.
ADR — Athletics Direct Report — As the name implies, this is the senior administrator at a college or university to whom the athletic director reports directly. ADRs should in-turn be direct reports to the president or chancellor.
The last of these is the least known to most, even within institutions and athletic programs. It is also a position that can have a profound impact on the nature and success of athletics on a campus.
For all institutions in the NCAA, the individual fundamentally responsible for the athletic program is the president. Each conference is governed by the presidents of the member institutions, and at its core, the NCAA is a presidential organization. There are still a number of Division III presidents who maintain direct supervision of their athletics programs, but in keeping with the Division III philosophy, at most member institutions, immediate oversight of athletic programs has been assigned to a member of the president’s cabinet.
There are many advantages to the ADR model. No president benefits from having to negotiate a position between the competing interests of alumni, donors, athletics, parents, and the faculty. Aligning the athletic program within a division diffuses many of those potential conflicts. More importantly, there is additional senior administrative support for our student athletes. As students first, they are juggling complex schedules and serving as ambassadors for our institutions, so having an extra cabinet member advocating for them is a good thing.
I am personally aware of ADRs whose principal titles are: Chief Academic Officer (CAO), Chief Enrollment Officer, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief of Staff, and Chief Student Affairs Officer (CSAO).
I would strongly advocate against financial and enrollment officers being in the ADR position. There are a number of individuals who have done so meritoriously, but maintaining an institutional firewall between the oversight of enrollment and revenue, financial aid, and the recruitment of Division III athletes is prudent management.
Appropriately, the ADR responsibility is most frequently assigned to an officer whose portfolio is focused on the student experience. ADRs should be dedicated to advancing the learning goals of the athletic experience. Now the vast majority of ADRs are Chief Student Affairs Officers. In our conference (The Landmark) all eight ADRs are now CSAOs. Just a few years ago, the ADs of three member schools still reported directly to their presidents.
Prior to my current role, I was the ADR at two institutions where I was the CAO. At both schools, coaches were members of the faculty, which made the reporting structure logical. It also created an opportunity for me to appreciate how much good coaches contribute to the learning experience of their athletes. At each of those institutions, players were registered for their team as a physical education class. This meant that every team roster had been certified by the registrar. It made compliance easy to assure.
The one drawback in that model was when I would help negotiate a schedule conflict created by a championship, I had no partner. I was advocating for the student and the faculty member. It usually worked out, but it would have been easier with two administrators.
So many of the learning goals and philosophies surrounding the student athlete experience in Division III are in direct alignment with the co-curricular learning models at the core of student life on our campuses. Integrating efforts between student life staff, coaches, and athletics administration benefits everyone involved, especially our students. Many of the administrative details around housing and meals that are complicated by athletics schedules are also easily navigated when these parties are already working together.
Division III athletics is what college athletics was meant to be: students playing at a high level for the love of the game, the community of a team, and all the ways athletics contribute to the personal development of our student athletes on and off the field or court. The CAO or CSAO is the best partner to support that mission.