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Autonomy Helps NU's Student-Athlete Model
Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah is a national role model for student-athlete welfare.
Photo Courtesy Kelly Mosier/NU Media Relations
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
08/11/2014
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Last Thursday was a historical moment in collegiate sports history with the adoption of a structure that enables NCAA autonomy.  Division I student-athletes are the winners in this game-changing decision.  The NCAA’s new structure preserves what’s already good and lays the groundwork for improvements that will benefit each student-athlete’s academic, health, safety, and overall well being.  With autonomy, 65 NCAA institutions can provide more student-athlete benefits, such as increased financial aid per year, additional years on scholarship, and health insurance that can extend beyond a student-athlete’s time on campus. 

The biggest news that gets buried in coverage of this monumental decision is a simple fact that gives student-athletes a voice at the table – a voice they should have had decades ago.  Going forward, 15 student-athletes – three from each of the five conferences gaining autonomy – will be voting members of a new board that will guide the nation’s five highest resourced conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).  With shared input and joint leadership, the new structural autonomy becomes a launch pad for unilateral change in rules that will enable substantive reform focused primarily on education and student-athlete welfare. The University of Nebraska’s highest athletic-related priorities will be served, allowing the Huskers and their collegiate partners the ability to craft worthy student-athlete stipends which will help cover the full cost of attending college – costs that go beyond tuition, room and board, books, and supplies.

Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst says student-athletes are the No. 1 priority for Nebraska Athletics.

NCAA Decision in Lockstep with Nebraska’s Vision

For those who don’t read executive columns or listen to monthly Talk to the Director of Athletics radio shows on the Huskers Sports Network, this might seem like startling news.  But it is in lockstep with Nebraska’s vision and with Shawn Eichorst, who has a great habit of listening intently at Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Council meetings and engaging in one-on-one conversations with student-athletes on any given day.  Nebraska’s second-year Director of Athletics has a knack for keeping all student-athletes in the know about upcoming legislation, and what he did Thursday stayed true to the culture he leads and supports.  Eichorst, you see, sent a detailed email directly to each of Nebraska’s 600-plus student-athletes to inform them about the legislation and how it could affect them.

In light of this watershed event's extensive national coverage, please allow me to share Shawn’s letter with you, so you understand how the news is in alignment with Nebraska’s culture.  The Huskers, in fact, became a national role model leading up to the vote on autonomy.  Ameer Abdullah, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was the keynote speaker for the recent Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago.  Before 1,700 fans, coaches and players, Abdullah explained why returning to college to earn his degree was much more important to him than leaving Nebraska’s campus to pursue an NFL career.  His speech resonated with the logic that five major conferences have put into changing the NCAA model.  It also holds up the principles and guiding lights that the nation’s healthiest conferences want to build on, now and in the future.

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UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman helped the NCAA present its prestigious Top Ten Award to Mary Weatherholt.

Shawn Eichorst’s Letter to Nebraska Student-Athletes

Here’s the full text of Eichorst’s Thursday morning letter:  

Dear Husker Student-Athletes,

"I hope you are having an enjoyable summer and we look forward to seeing and working with you this upcoming academic year.   

The 2013-2014 year was one of the best in the history of the University of Nebraska as your academic, athletic and community engagement accomplishments set new heights.  These successes are the direct result of your commitment to our mission, core values and positive culture.  Our primary mission is to provide you with the resources and support that you need to be successful in academics, athletics and life.  Our core values of Integrity, Trust, Respect, Teamwork, and, Loyalty are at the heart of everything that we do and your health, safety and welfare are at the essence of every action we take.

I greatly respect and appreciate all of your hard work and dedication, as pursuing a degree while participating in intercollegiate athletics is no easy task.  My career in collegiate athletics as a student, competitor and administrator has spanned nearly two decades.  The education and experiences have had a profound impact on my life, being a first generation college graduate, and have afforded me opportunities that I never could have imagined.  I received a tremendous undergraduate education, competed in football and returned as an administrator at a NCAA Division III institution.  I have had the pleasure to serve as an administrator at four NCAA Division I schools which compete in the SEC, ACC and Big Ten.  Though size, scope, mission and finances vary among schools and certainly among conferences and divisions, there remains one constant: the student-athlete educational opportunities and experiences associated with intercollegiate athletics.

UNL Law Professor Jo Potuto twice has served as the NCAA’s CEO for Faculty Athletics Representatives.

Student-Athlete Leaders Represent a Cross Section

I have had the great pleasure of daily interactions with many of you in formal and informal setting, and the discussions have often centered on your student-athlete experience.  In fact, I met earlier this morning with a number of our student athletes who serve in leadership roles representing a cross-section of our sports programs.  We had a robust and inspiring conversation, in which we agreed to remain focused on our mission, core values and getting better each and every day.

As you are aware, the current role and values of intercollegiate athletics are being debated, with a focus on the value of an education and the welfare of student-athletes.  At Nebraska, Chancellor Harvey Perlman, Faculty Athletics Representative Jo Potuto, many others and I have been fully engaged in these conversations and have been strong advocates of a 21st century NCAA governance and rules structure that will allow us to provide more resources and support to you, as well as to provide you with a voice and vote in the decision-making process.

Emily Wong and Seth Wiedel were voted Nebraska’s 2014 Female and Male Student-Athletes of the Year.

Nebraska Has Developed a Reputation as a Trailblazer

The University of Nebraska has a tremendous history, tradition and reputation of serving the needs of its student-athletes and we have been – and will continue to be – a trailblazer at the cutting edge of academic support, life skills and career services programming, medical and athletic training care, nutrition and training table services, strength and conditioning support, and community engagement opportunities among other areas.  In fact, just in the past year, in an effort to improve your experience, we have provided additional resources and full-time staff members in Academic Support, Athletic Medicine/Athletic Training, Life Skills, Alumni Relations, Sports Nutrition/Training Table and Strength & Conditioning.  We have opened the first of its kind, state-of-the-art, Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory complete with an exceptional staff and technology to enhance your performance, health and safety.  We have brought in nationally recognized experts in leadership and teamwork, and we have created a spring break learning abroad program that will include student-athlete participation beginning in 2015.  The 240+ full-time administrators, coaches and staff work extremely hard to provide you with a world-class experience. Please click this link to a recent Connecting on Campus column I wrote.  It provides additional information and insight into the resources and support available.

However, there is more work to be done and we will continue to do more when necessary and permissible.  Additionally, we will continue to engage and collaborate directly with you, to seek your thoughts and suggestions, as your opinions matter.  I and/or at least one of our senior administrators will continue to participate in all Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) meetings and maintain our open door policy.

Former Husker Coach/AD Tom Osborne dedicated the only two Student Life Complexes in Nebraska history.

Historic NCAA Vote is a Positive Step Forward

Today’s historic vote and change in the governance of the NCAA is a positive step forward.  Though there are still a great many unknowns, I am confident that the first class services, support and opportunities that we currently provide will only get better and we will continue to work hard every day to that end.  Thank you for all that you do for Nebraska and for representing this great institution with honor, class, integrity and sportsmanship.  Best of luck this upcoming academic year.” 

Go Big Red!  Shawn

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