Look it like a long steeplechase race. Basically, the University of Central Arkansas has one more hurdle and a water jump.
The university is on the home stretch for full certification and accreditation as an NCAA Division I member. University athletic officials have held together and cleared the toughest stuff. And the the school is keeping a steady pace.
Last week, NCAA officials visited Conway for a certification site visit. The official party consisted of two NCAA officials plus four representatives of other Division I universities.
Last spring, UCA officials sent to the NCAA a detailed self-examination report in which they outlined the entire certification process for NCAA Division I membership. The NCAA representatives came to Conway last week to talk separately to school officials, athletic officials, coaches and athletes to see if what UCA said in its self-examination report was valid.
"It went really well," said Brad Teague, UCA athletic director. "They said, ‘Wow, you really do have Division I facilities. Wow. Your student-athletes were the best student-athletes we have ever visited with before. In fact, were they actors and actresses?’"
And the NCAA group knew the drill. The four representatives of other NCAA schools had been through the same certification process, so they knew exactly what to ask and what to address.
The process began about a year and a half ago. UCA officials had to respond to 150 questions.
The quiz was not multiple choice. It required detail, illustrations, input from many individuals and research. It was a long report.
The questions concerned the university progress in: 1. rules and compliance; 2. academic integrity; 3. diversity; 4. gender-equity; and 5. student-athlete well-being.
The process was like completing a doctoral dissertation. UCA submitted its report to the NCAA. The NCAA critiqued it and gave feedback.
UCA tightened the report, sent it back and got more feedback.
It came down to 19 major issues UCA had to tweak or address.
When the NCAA group visited UCA, it examined closely the 19 remaining issues. They found UCA had completely taken care of 12 of the issues and now must address the final seven by December.
The issues are more of the technical variety. Recall the doctoral work. Much of the process often concerns structural and word usage issues most of us would consider really picky.
But it’s the process and you have to jump through all the hoops to the satisfaction of those holding the hoops.
UCA will submit its final report in December and the full NCAA certification committee will examine it in February. In April, the NCAA will inform UCA if it is certified as an NCAA Division I institution.
Then, the water jump.
UCA then has to pass the reclassification process for athletic competition — one that began five years ago. The final process on that will be completed next June.
Here are examples of the final lingering issues:
UCA’s graduation success rate improvement plan was not approved by senior staff.
The federal graduation success rate improvement plan was not approved by senior staff.
You get the of the nature of the hoops.
Teague said the toughest remaining issue concerns the university’s gender-equity plan needs further development from a broad-based committee. In other words, the NCAA is saying only one or two people wrote that plan and it needs to be addressed by a larger group and resubmitted.
Yeh, it’s the nature of bureaucracy. Nothing can be official and real unless it comes from a committee.
"We feel very good about things and we feel we’re on our way to certification and we feel we’re on our way to full certification," Teague said. "I really believe we are in good shape."
Note that the NCAA group was apparently very impressed with the random group of student-athletes they selected to interview.
Students, as it should be, often give the best indication of the heart, soul and fiber of a university. The NCAA has done this enough to detect who is real and who is faking.
The "wow" factor with the student-athletes should be huge.
The finish line is in sight for UCA.
But there’s no time to stop running.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)