Lynn Pasquerella was recently appointed to the Division III President’s Council of the NCAA (National Collegiate Association of Athletics). The council, according to Pasquerella, advises the NCAA and votes on proposed legislation regarding athletic safety policies and practices.
The nomination came as a surprise to Pasquerella. She received a call from Sharon Herzberger, president of Whittier College and vice-chair of the Division III council, asking her to be a member. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to represent Mount Holyoke,” said Pasquerella, “We represent a women’s college. There are very few women within the NCAA organization, and they’re really trying to have a more diverse group of presidents and athletic directors, and so there’s an emphasis on women’s leadership that I think is important to highlight.”
Herzberger spoke highly of Pasquerella. “She is seen as someone who adds a distinctive voice to deliberations and who is committed to the goals of Division III athletics.” Herzberger added that, “her nomination was unanimously applauded and we were delighted when she agreed to stand for election to the Council. Her election also was unanimous.”
Other members of Mount Holyoke’s staff were pleased to see Pasquerella elected to this council. “This is an incredible honor for President Pasquerella and Mount Holyoke College. It reflects well on her reputation among her presidential colleagues who entrust her with decision making at the highest level within college athletics,” said Lori Hendricks, director of Athletics at Mount Holyoke.
Pasquerella was pleased to be nominated to the council. Although, she was slightly surprised given that earlier she has publically disagreed with the NCAA. In July 2012, she wrote an article titled “A Better Way to Protect College Athletes.” She argued against the NCAA’s aim to require all players be tested for sickle cell anemia, citing historical racial issues (given that African Americans have a higher rate of sickle cell anemia than other racial groups) and privacy concerns. Instead, she argued that “aggressive education” should be put in place to warn athletes about life-threatening diseases. Though Pasquerella’s article disagreed with the NCAA’s official policy, Pasquerella stated that “they of course are very willing to hear divergent views.”
There are several issues on the agenda for the NCAA president’s council. One substantial issue involves examining concussions in football. “The NCAA is looking at safety regulations around helmets [and] around aggressive behavior,” said Pasquerella.
According to Pasquerella, the council is also examining when to provide religious accommodations to athletes. She cited an example of a Christian Scientist, whose religious beliefs would prohibit them from receiving medical tests. In this case, despite wishes to respect religious beliefs, many members of the NCAA were concerned with the psychological risks (due to seeing a teammate potentially collapse) and the potential harmful physical effects to other team members. “It’s a challenge. You look at the risk of harm to individuals and [you look at] balancing that with pluralism and tolerance,” Pasquerella said. She stated that while she personally would be inclined to allow students to refuse such tests on a religious basis, “[The] NCAA isn’t, so they’d be recommending that we not allow for that type of accommodation.” Pasquerella did acknowledge that she could see both sides of the argument.
The council is also seeking to revive the reputation of the NCAA, which has been adversely affected by scandals at Penn State and at other colleges and universities. “It’s a time that we really need to celebrate the fact that the NCAA last year gave out $53 billion in scholarships to students; we need to highlight the leadership opportunities that are provided for student athletes and take seriously the kinds of concerns that have been raised by the scandals, but also speak with one voice to the value of athletic participation in college,” Pasquerella mused.
Other than Pamela Reid, president of the University of Saint Joseph, Pasquerella is the only other women’s college president on the council. On the council of 18 members, there are only five women (including Pasquerella.)
Pasquerella is using her experience as a former student and a current president of a women’s college to promote change within the NCAA. “I stood up and said, ‘we really need to focus more on women’s athletics.”
Pasquerella also emphasized the positive effect that collegiate athletics can have on women, especially at a school like Mount Holyoke. She argued that athletics provide a form of empowerment to women, which they might not have access to before college. “That’s not something that anybody else had talked about to that point.” She added that most of the conversations have focused on men’s sports, such as men’s football and basketball, and challenges specific to those teams.
Hendricks also agreed that Pasquerella’s presence was a benefit for female collegiate athletes. “I witnessed President Pasquerella speak to presidents representing NCAA Divisions I, II and III during the President’s Council joint breakfast last month. She was able to highlight the transformative power of athletics for women and recommended that this message not be lost in the NCAA’s new communications plan,” Hendricks said.
Though Pasquerella is one of two women’s college presidents on the NCAA Division III Presidents council, women’s colleges are represented throughout the NCAA in other ways. Mount Holyoke is part of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), which is affiliated with the NCAA.
NEWMAC includes Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, Smith and several co-ed institutions. Last year, Pasquerella represented the NEWMAC conference at the NCAA and this year, Kim Bottomly, president of Wellesley College, will be representing NEWMAC. Hendricks is also involved with the NCAA. “Currently, I am involved with the NCAA Pathways Program. Each year, ten individuals from across all three NCAA Divisions are identified as the next generation of directors of athletics. We undergo an intensive 12–month program to ready us for the work of the director. As a part of this program, I was in attendance at President Pasquerella’s first President’s Council meeting,” she said. Incidentally, according to the Office of Communications Press release, this is the first time since 2009 that NEWMAC has had a member on the president’s council.
On the whole, Pasquerella expressed excitement for this opportunity. “I’m looking forward to participating in the council. These are interesting issues, athletes are some of our most important ambassadors to the outside world, and they represent the College in important ways,” she said. “So whatever I can do to support the well-being of athletes, I’m happy to do.”