SAAC Bringing UMass Student-Athletes Together
April 16, 2004
By Kyle Harris
When a student athlete has a problem or suggestion, it would seem logical that they would go to their coach or assistant coach. However, if the problem concerns something outside of the coach's control, such as a new conference rule, then the athlete may feel like they are out of options and do not have a say. Enter the Student Athlete Advisory Council.
The UMass Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) is comprised of two athletes from each varsity team along with two faculty advisors, associate athletic director Elaine Sortino and academic advisor Louis Bronk. The group functions primarily in three ways: as a representative body in legislative matters pertaining to the UMass student athlete; as a group working to enhance the student-athlete experience; and as a community service organization.
As a legislative group, SAAC is involved in the discussion, formulation and submission of ideas and opinions about current issues in the world of collegiate athletics. For example, recently the NCAA was discussing the possibility of shortening the seasons. The UMass athletes were strongly against this, as they felt it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Co-chair Kristi Stefanoni of the softball team, who is also vice-chair on the Atlantic 10 SAAC, was able to represent this opinion at the Atlantic 10 meeting, and the proposition did not go through. Other instances can involve rule changes, structural changes and other alterations that can affect the student-athlete.
SAAC has also played a role in certain major faculty decisions that affect the student athlete. For example, the two co-chairs, Stefanoni and senior field hockey player Christine Tocco, were both members of the search and selection committee for UMass' new athletic director. "It was a great experience," said Stefanoni. "I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was great to be there with all of the top members of the department who are so high on the capabilities of the department and listen to the candidates speak. It really showed me how important it is for them to get in here and just how well they think of our school and our department." Now that a permanent athletic director has been named and is on campus, the students are very excited to get back on track and continue moving forward.
"John McCutcheon attended our last meeting and showed a lot of interest in SAAC," said Bronk. "He was very positive, very in touch with what was going on and really wants the group to be successful."
Another main function of SAAC is to help further the experience of all of UMass' student athletes through events and activities. Tuesday, April 6, 2004, is National Student-Athlete Day and SAAC is working to get the student athletes as well as regular students to come out and support the two athletic events happening on that day. At 2:30 p.m. the women's tennis team takes on Holy Cross, while the baseball team tangles with Holy Cross at 3:00 p.m. As the academic year begins to come to a close in May, SAAC will be putting on the second annual student athlete barbeque, meant to get all of the student athletes together in a fun and informal setting to promote interaction among all of the teams.
"I still think we can do more for the student athletes," said Stefanoni. "Our attendance has suffered a little this year and that is something that we have to work on. When someone comes in to express concerns and wants something changed, it almost always gets changed. For example, we wanted something changed in the academic planners and it was changed. Right now we are trying to get the date of class enrollment on SPIRE moved up for student-athletes. We are able to get things done, but we really need to raise the attendance and get input from every team." SAAC representatives can also act as advocates for the student-athletes on their respective teams. If an athlete has a problem or issue with something, he or she can go to their SAAC representative, who will then raise the issue at the next meeting. After it is discussed, the chairperson can then bring the issue to the proper administrator to see if it can be solved. One of SAAC's largest points of pride comes from its community service work.
The largest and most successful project so far this year was their participation in the holiday toy drive. A resident assistant had approached SAAC about a toy drive he was organizing, and wanted to know if the SAAC could help to raise a portion of the overall goal of 500 toys. To help spurn participation in the effort, the council organized a contest among the athletic teams to see who could bring in the largest number of toys for the drive. The top three contributors were women's crew, swimming and diving, and the softball team. Also, with the help of the marketing department and interim athletic director Thorr Bjorn, they were able to involve the public. A free ticket to an upcoming athletic event was given to any patron who brought a toy to be donated to a basketball game. All included, SAAC was able to donate over 400 toys to the drive, almost reaching the effort's goal by itself.
"Community service is really a huge part of this program," said Bronk. "Not only does it help out the community but it really get the student athletes involved on and off the campus. It is also a great representation of, and reflection upon, the university and the athletic department as a whole."
In terms of an upcoming project, SAAC is hoping to sponsor a blood drive. Also, in past years they have made visits to local area hospitals, including last year's trip to the Shriner's Hospital.
For more information on SAAC or Student Athlete Services, please visit www.umassathletics.com and click on the Student Athletic Center link.
This story was originally published in The Maroon & White.
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