Picture this. You are a freshman in college and are adjusting to your practices, school schedule, and social life. This could all be pretty demanding and frustrating at times. Yet alone, why would you even think of becoming involved with a new organization? Here is why, the people you meet through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) are motivated to help other athletes, make a difference in the community, and have a voice within the student-athlete body is an experience like no other. Being a part of your sports team in college is rewarding. But meeting other athletes who play different sports and coming together to achieve a common goal of improving others’ lives is truly special. The NCAA National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee helps give student-athletes a voice on campus and is a platform to share new thoughts and ideas.
The NCAA website states, “The mission of the National Student-Athlete Advisory Committees is to enhance the total student-athlete experience by promoting opportunity, protecting student-athlete welfare and fostering a positive student-athlete image.”
One of the best things when coming into school as a freshman is that you have upper-classmen who will help you along the way. There is a player on each NCAA team representing their sport. They attend SAAC meetings each month. He or she will become the spokesperson for the team and give updates as to what is happening on campus or in the community.
Here are a few bullet points of topics according to the NCAA:
- Promote communication between athletics administration and student-athletes.
- Disseminate information.
- Provide feedback and insight into athletics department issues.
- Generate a student-athlete voice within the campus athletics department formulation of policies.
- Build a sense of community within the athletics program involving all athletics teams.
- Solicit student-athlete responses to proposed conference and NCAA legislation.
- Organize community service efforts.
- Create a vehicle for student-athlete representation on campus-wide committees (e.g., student government).
- Promote a positive student-athlete image on campus.
Some examples of community service events the athletes can participate in are toy drives, team visits to schools or hospitals, Special Olympic events, and other community service events.
Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, does an annual visit to the Schroth School each year in December to hand out gifts to students in the school. Recently, they ran a toy drive where they made note cards and put them around in the athletic department and the student-center to increase awareness. The results were tremendous and not only did student-athletes participate, but faculty and students on campus became involved.
The students would then see the list of toys on the notecard and go out to the store and pick the toy that was listed on the card. The toys were then placed in the box. Within the first couple of weeks, all the toys on the list were bought and donated for the annual Schroth School visit.
The night before the visit, Monmouth’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (MSAAC) got together and had a gift wrapping party. All the toys were wrapped and ready to be given out the next day at the Schroth School. On the day of the visit, freshman athletes that joined MSAAC were thrilled to see the look on a kid’s face when they opened the gifts. That one smile or gesture makes all the difference in the world.
As athletes, we are leaders on campus and are fortunate to be competing for our school. It is always great to give back in some way to help others and even inspire people. Which is another reason why joining your school’s SAAC is worthwhile. SAAC sets the platform for you to work with other like-minded athletes who want to make a difference in others’ lives.
Here is a video of what the MSAAC Schroth School Holiday Visit is like.
Recently, graduating senior Caroline Mattise, who was the Director of Social Media of Monmouth University’s SAAC, says, “For me, SAAC has meant getting to know athletes from other teams and working together towards a common goal. As the Social Media Director for my university’s SAAC, my role was to promote and organize our events while encouraging our athletes to become more involved. SAAC gives student-athletes a real voice on their campuses and within their athletic departments. I learned first hand that the athletic department and university are very willing to put on and support an event when it comes from the heart of a student-athlete or a student in general.”
Aside from helping the community, SAAC organizations can increase student morale by creating events to cheer on their teams at games. An example that Monmouth University’s SAAC came up with is the Monmouth “M” games trend. Each team was responsible for choosing a home game and making it their “M” game. T-shirts were given out to fans to represent their school and attend the game to increase the student spirit on campus. This was a great idea to support the school and each team on campus. The turnout was amazing and more students attended the “M” games.
SAAC also takes part in movements where important topics need to be addressed. In May, which is Mental Health Awareness, some schools participated in campaigns to raise awareness. In the MAAC, one campaign was A11 MAAC Minds. This is where all eleven schools from the conference participated in increasing awareness for student-athletes to understand mental health. Some teams who still competed in May even wore green ribbons to show their support.
Let’s take a look at how most committees are formed. There is an executive board in each school made up of several positions, including President, Vice President, Secretary, Director of Social Media, Director of Finance, and Director of off-campus activities. There could be other positions as well, depending on the school. From there, usually, 1-2 members from each sport are representatives for their teams. There are about 2-3 meetings a month, and since it is student-run, the possibility of ideas is endless.
From the different school committees, the National SAAC is made up of 1 student-athlete from each conference. According to the NCAA, “Members are selected from a pool of three nominees from each of the represented conferences… The Division I SAAC reports directly to the Division I Leadership Council, and one SAAC member participates in each meeting of the Leadership Council. Additionally, SAAC members are represented on cabinets and committees within the Division I governance structure.”
The Metro-Atlantic-Athletic Conference SAAC Chair Turner Dirrigle of Canisius says, “The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) rewards hard-working leaders with tangible results. Positive change is created with every hour spent planning events, interpreting NCAA legislation, and organizing social media campaigns. By promoting mental well-being, diversity, and inclusion, and making healthier choices, we show a commitment to our communities.
As a SAAC representative, I have been able to work with student-athletes who display strong leadership and a concern for the marginalized. I am proud to represent Canisius College and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.”
Still not convinced to join yet? Did I mention conference trips all over the county? Each year, the conferences have about 3-4 meetings all around the country. 1-2 representatives from each school have the opportunity to travel to places, including Orlando, Indianapolis, and New York. These are annual meetings where you talk amongst other representatives from your conference schools and go over proposed legislation, new community service events, as well as new ideas to bring back to your school.
Side Note: The MAAC held a conference at ESPN World Wide of Sports, and the representatives had the opportunity to volunteer at Give Kids the World and participate in Disney’s Youth Leadership program in the parks.
A recent graduate of Monmouth University and President of MSAAC for the 2019-20 school year, Jess Johnson says, “SAAC has allowed me to talk with athletes from sports other than mine. It can be hard as a Division I athlete, even in a small school, to get to know other athletes. We all have our own practice and game schedules, but we also have classes, clubs, and social life to lead to. SAAC has helped close that gap, and it’s given me insight into the similarities and differences of athletes of varying sports. I don’t think I would have become as close with some of my friends without SAAC, let alone even knowing them. I also think my work within SAAC has helped me with my direction for my future. I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with athletics staff and administrators because of SAAC and as I head into Graduate School, working with college athletes is of high interest to me. I know what it takes to be one; I’m now going to use that and turn it into ways I can help them.”
SAAC is a well-organized and rewarding organization to become involved in. It is an exciting experience meeting people and continuing the tradition of empowering student-athletes and having goals to build a stronger community.
* Originally published on November 5, 2020, by Jimmy Criscione