Saint Mary's College of California is nearly halfway through completion of a campus-wide study of its athletics program under the NCAA Division I Athletics Certification Program.

The program requires the College to perform a comprehensive self-study that examines adherence to NCAA standards of academic integrity, governance and commitment to compliance rules, as well as its commitment to gender equity, diversity and student-athlete well-being. The last time Saint Mary's College completed athletic certification was in 2000 and, like scores of other Division I schools, the College must undergo the certification process every 10 years. Institutions that fail to conduct a comprehensive self-study or to correct problems could face sanctions from the NCAA.

The committee responsible for the study is chaired by Vice Provost of Enrollment and Vice President for College Communications Michael Beseda and includes 22 members of the institution's faculty, staff and athletics department. The SMC self-study committee formed last summer, and participated in a one-day orientation video conference with a member of the NCAA membership services staff in October.

Beseda said the purpose of the certification program is to help ensure integrity in the institution's athletics operations.

"One of the real concerns of certification, is to make sure athletics is properly integrated into the fabric of the institution and that there's clear institutional control of athletics from the president and the board," he said.

The NCAA certification program has standards, known as operating principles, which were adopted by the association to establish benchmarks to evaluate all Division I members. One of those benchmarks is the graduation rate for student-athletes, said Beseda.

"On a national level, there's always a concern that institutions are, in essence, using student-athletes, bringing them to school not for the educational opportunities but just for their athletic abilities," Beseda said. "The NCAA is saying we want institutions to show that student-athletes are progressing toward graduation and they need to provide high quality academic support."

Which is what Saint Mary's College is already committed to, according to Beseda, who also said, overall, student-athletes graduate at rates two to three points higher than SMC's overall student body.

A draft of the SMC self-study will be ready in February 2009, with a final version going to the NCAA in May 2009. Beseda said the process is going extremely well because the College has an exemplary track record of academic oversight of athletics, and Athletic Director Mark Orr has done a great job with the program. After an NCAA examination of the Saint Mary's College self-study, an external team of reviewers will conduct a three-day evaluation on campus in November 2009. The NCAA will release its findings on SMC's athletic certification in spring 2010.

For more information, visit the College's NCAA Self-Study web page

--Mike McAlpin
Office of College Communications

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