INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
University undertakes NCAA certification process
By : Katie Ellis
Having successfully hosted the America East Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament earlier this month, Binghamton University continues to prepare for NCAA certification, a process not unlike academic accreditation. A requirement for all NCAA Division I schools, initial certification is mandated within the first five years of entering Division I. Institutions earn certification for 10 years.
Meant to ensure the University’s fundamental commitment to integrity in intercollegiate athletics, the certification program sets Division I operating standards in three basic areas — governance and commitment to rule compliance; academic integrity; and equity, welfare and sportsmanship — and sanctions institutions that fail to conduct comprehensive self-studies or correct problems.
The process is structured to involve and invite public comment. Over the past year, three subcommittees comprised of more than 40 people from across campus have been gathering data as part of a required self-study the core of the certification process. The self-study, according to the NCAA, “offers a unique opportunity to educate individuals across the campus about the athletics program’s goals and purposes, the many challenges facing athletics and the ways in which athletics supports the institution’s mission.” The campus is now being asked to comment on the self-study documents as part of the certification process.
The subcommittees were overseen by a 14-member steering committee chaired by Michael McGoff, vice provost for strategic and fiscal planning, who said the subcommittees members were diligent in completing their work. “The certification self-study process continues to demonstrate Binghamton University’s fundamental commitment to the integrity of our intercollegiate athletics program and its operations,” he said. “To a person, people came in with the best intentions to work hard on this project. We came out with some great results, and plans for improvement where necessary.”
“It’s an affirmation that we’re doing everything in accordance with NCAA bylaws and expectations,” said Joel Thirer, director of health, physical education and athletics. “I look at it as a very positive process. We want to make sure we have all of our ducks in order — and we do.”
The self-study is based on data from the University’s first three complete years in Division I. The subcommittees have produced three separate documents — one on academic integrity, another on governance and commitment to rules compliance and a third on equity and welfare. Fashioned to create self-awareness, the self-study details the positives of the athletics program, identifies opportunities for improvement and outlines plans for those improvements.
Binghamton’s self-study underscores that student-athletes are admitted based on their probability of academic success and likely contribution to the University, that the University considers a full range of available support services available when determining the probability of success and that the process of admission for student-athletes does not differ from that of other students except that coaches may submit a talent recommendation form to admissions.
“We use a very holistic approach for the admissions process, but one of the criteria we look at is the potential contribution a student may make to the campus,” said Cheryl Brown, director of admissions and member of the academic integrity subcommittee. “For student-athletes and other talented students, we weigh that potential contribution more heavily when making a decision of whether to admit or not.”
Some student-athletes are considered special admits to the University, a process that is the norm throughout the nation in Division I athletics. This puts them in the same category with students who are admitted for their talents in theater, music, art, leadership, dance or writing, said Brown. “The music department auditions students, writing samples and videotapes are reviewed by appropriate departments and the recommendation process is the same for athletes as it is for these other departments. Since the early 1970s, we’ve had a talented student admission (special admit) program in place that has included athletics.
“In addition — because some special admits receive extra academic support, because their progress is closely monitored and because of the contribution they make to campus life — we’re willing to admit some who might be below the level of academic achievement expected from regularly admitted students,” she said.
The admission profile of Binghamton’s student-athletes who receive scholarship aid indicates that some come to the University with lower GPAs and SAT scores than average. As noted in the academic integrity report, “The pool of students who are outstanding athletes and who also meet the University’s highly selective admission standards is quite small and highly recruited. Therefore, during its early years in Division I, as the University is developing its athletic reputation, it has been necessary to admit some student-athletes on athletic aid as special admits.”
Once those student-athletes are enrolled, however, the overwhelming majority remains at Binghamton. “In fact,” said Jerret LeMay, research analyst for the Office of Institutional Research and Planning who helped compile the required statistics for the self-study, “the retention rate for these student-athletes is in some cases higher than it is for the regularly admitted students.”
Such outcomes indicate that Binghamton makes appropriate enrollment decisions for student-athletes. Members of the academic integrity subcommittee attribute the success of the student-athletes to the support provided to them — support not unlike that provided to other special admits like Educational Opportunity Program participants. For example, student-athletes, through the Education Enhancement Program, receive assistance with time management, study skills and note- and test-taking skills. In addition, the Lifeskills course fulfills part of the General Education requirement and helps student-athletes build skills important for academic and career success.
“There are no signs of alarm because it’s very early in the process,” said Don Blake, associate dean of Harpur College and chair of the academic integrity subcommittee. “However, we want the campus to be vigilant in continuing to watch retention rates and beginning to watch graduation rates.”
The self-study does highlight areas for improvement. In the academic integrity arena, the Intercollegiate Athletics Board (IAB) — the campus board authorized and mandated by the Board of Trustees — will revise its bylaws to include advising the president annually on matters of retention and graduation rates of student-athletes, as well as the effectiveness of academic support services offered to student-athletes.
In terms of governance, the president will review the IAB bylaws and membership and appoint a committee to ensure consistency and consonance with Board of Trustee guidelines, and the IAB will review budget and sport offerings in accordance with its bylaws.
Finally, the subcommittee on equity and welfare, which gathered information on gender, minority and student-athlete welfare issues, found no areas of major concern, but recommends establishing IAB subcommittees on gender and minority issues, clarification of policies and philosophies in the Athletic Staff Manual and maintenance and monitoring of existing practices.
The University will submit the subcommittee reports to the NCAA in April, following the comment period. A two-day site visit by a peer review team to verify and evaluate the campus’ self-study will take place in September. The peer review team will then provide a written report to the NCAA Division I Committee on Athletics Certification, which will consider it along with Binghamton’s self-study in making its certification decision.