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Process helps Winston-Salem State stabilize membership status
Winston-Salem State will return to active Division II membership September 1, highlighting not only a successful transition for the university but also an excellent test case for a new process for NCAA members reclassifying from Division I to Division II.
The university, a longtime member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, began reclassifying to Division I in 2005. Financial pressures forced the institution to reconsider the decision and in September 2009, Winston-Salem State petitioned the Division II Membership Committee to return to Division II. The decision to grant active Division II membership to Winston-Salem State was announced August 5.
The timing for Winston-Salem State to reconsider was opportune since the Division II Presidents Council had recently directed the Membership Committee to facilitate the return of any institution that might have second thoughts about Division I classification. Committee chair Glenn Stokes, faculty athletics representative at Columbus State, said the committee concluded that enough commonalities existed between Division I and II operations that an expedited process could be instituted for all members reclassifying from Division I, not just those that previously were Division II members.
Winston-Salem State was the first institution to take advantage of the new arrangement, and the institution performed so well that Stokes said it might be regarded more as a model case for reclassification than a test case.
“For me, the key to the whole process was they made it so easy,” said Stokes, who joined staff member Leslie Schuemann and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association representative Monique Morgan in an orientation visit earlier this year. “I could have predicted their success after about an hour being on that campus …. They had a roadmap and somebody driving the car that was going to get them there.”
That somebody was Winston-Salem State Chancellor Donald Julian Reaves, who involved himself and relevant personnel virtually non-stop through the 1.5-day orientation visit.
“The thing that impressed me probably more than anything else was that their president was there for almost the entire time,” Stokes said. “I don’t think he stepped out for more than an hour any time during the meetings that were going on.”
The process itself was straightforward, placing a burden on the institution to demonstrate a linkage between its overall strategic plan and the athletics strategic plan. In particular, the Membership Committee was looking for evidence that the athletics department clearly was integrated with the academic operations of the university.
The school was required to apply to the Membership Committee and then arrange (and pay for) the orientation visit. Stokes, Schuemann and Morgan visited with various institutional personnel, all the way from Reaves to various vice presidents, athletics administrators, coaches and student-athletes.
A second strategic plan was required to show the committee how the institution plans to implement Division II legislation. After that requirement was met, an outside auditor − in this case, The Compliance Group from Kansas City – made a detailed assessment of the state of the athletics program to ensure that it is complying with Division II legislation.
As it happens, Stokes said Winston-Salem State’s circumstance was a bit more complicated than the norm because of the relatively abrupt course correction from Division I. “It was difficult for them because they had to stay with Division I regulations right up until May,” Stokes said. “So the audit had to be done based on that they had put in place for the upcoming year.”
In addition, many of the student-athletes had been recruited with promises that they would be competing for Division I championships by their senior year. “Halfway through, it was a complete change in strategy for them,” Stokes said, “and it was an education process for that institution to convince those kids to stay on. And they were able to do it, for most of them.”
Ultimately, the expedited process provided some badly needed certainty for an institution that had been caught in a membership-classification netherworld.
“The official notification of conference membership helps us in our efforts to get ready for the upcoming football season,” said Athletics Director Bill Hayes. “I informed our football team of the notification, and our young men were elated. We talked about the challenges and goals ahead and for years to come and everyone is excited about the opportunity to get on the field and compete.”
By David Pickle