Once every two weeks, a select group of Vassar student-athletes representing all 27 varsity teams, gather together in Rockefeller Hall. The goal of these meetings is to create a unique forum where team leaders can discuss the most pressing issues facing both the athletic community and Vassar as a whole.
Vassar’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is part of a national initiative to help the NCAA gain helpful insight on the student-athlete experience. Each school’s SAAC offers feedback on newly proposed NCAA rules, regulations and policies. The Vassar branch has taken its duties a step further, with a particular focus on charitable outreach and creating a strong connection between student-athletes and the Vassar community.
“The most important task of SAAC is to voice the opinions of Vassar student-athletes to the Vassar administration, the student body and the NCAA as a whole,” said junior Bryan Rubin, a SAAC representative for the baseball team. “Another important objective is to bridge the gap between student-athletes and students who don’t play sports. At Vassar, like many elite academic institutions, a portion of the student body may feel alienated from the athletic community. ”
Senior women’s basketball player Ariella Rosenthal, this year’s Vassar SAAC vice president, also expressed the desire of student-athletes to create a greater relationship with the general student body. “Moving forward I think something that has been really important for us is trying to break the barrier between student-athletes and students who may not participate in athletics,” Rosenthal said. “It is something that a lot of us are passionate about, and we have been trying to figure out ways to bring these communities together.”
Rosenthal is just one of many student-athletes who have taken a leading role in SAAC. Members of this year’s executive board include secretary Sophia Tiajoloff (senior, women’s volleyball), Liberty League representative Annie MacMillan (junior, women’s volleyball), Liberty League representative Madison Carroll (senior, women’s swim and dive), community outreach director Dasha Ivenitsky (senior, women’s tennis), treasurer Dahli Chroscinski (junior, women’s soccer), treasurer Kristin Caolo (junior, women’s lacrosse) and president Matt Knigge (senior, men’s volleyball). Out- side of the Executive Board, all varsity teams are given two team representatives, chosen by either their coaches or teammates.
Knigge, as president, represents not only the men’s volleyball team and Vassar, but also the entirety of the Liberty League and the New Jersey Athletic Conference at the national Division III SAAC conference. Altogether, Knigge is responsible for having his finger on the pulse of the experiences of over 10,000 student-athletes in the Liberty League and the NJAC. He is also the national student-athlete representative to the Division III Championships Committee.
As part of his duties, Knigge has attended over 10 SAAC meetings in Indianapolis and another 10 or so around the country over the course of two years. At these meetings, Knigge has had the opportunity to hear from the president of the NCAA and engage in roundtable discussions with other student-athletes and high-level NCAA officials. Although Knigge takes immense pride in his role at the national level, his main focus is always working with Vassar student-athletes.
“First and foremost, I utilize my position as the Vassar SAAC president to make sure that we are best representing and serving the interests of Vassar’s 550 student-athletes,” Knigge said. “What that gets broken down into is acting as an advocate and face for student-athlete welfare issues, as well as ensuring that our ongoing initiatives are successfully implemented.”
Vassar’s SAAC initiatives for this year include their “Think Pink Week” to raise breast cancer awareness, a partnership with the local Special Olympics, and increased BrewCrew events to help raise attendance at varsity athletic contests. Rosen- thal and Knigge have also organized subcommittees for BrewCrew, community outreach and student-athlete welfare.
“At Vassar, SAAC allows the student-athletes to have a unified voice and carry out a set of initiatives and events that allow us to positively interact with members of the greater Vassar, Poughkeepsie and Hudson Valley community,” said Knigge.
As Rosenthal added: “I think we have a lot of amazing people in the athletics community, and being able to have them get involved and on board with things going on in the community and on campus is really important and something we strive to do in SAAC.”
Fencing team representative Noey Berger said that he was satisfied with the initiatives taken by Vassar’s SAAC that go beyond the basic NCAA requirements.
“Vassar’s SAAC plays an important role in fund-raising and charity, improving logistical and practical obstacles that student-athletes face in every- day life and improving the relationship between athletes and non-athletes at Vassar,” Berger said. “I think that the latter goal is particularly important at Vassar, as while many students who come to Vassar may not be interested in sports or attending our games, which is totally fine, there is a stigmatization of certain teams and athletes that should be addressed.”
As part of its efforts to connect with the larger student community, SAAC discussed at their most recent meeting the possibility of working more closely with the Vassar Student Association (VSA) and of beginning the process to become a registered org.
Other important notes from Sunday’s meeting include a letter drafted by SAAC to food provider Bon Appétit to suggest more food availability at the Deece for student-athletes who get out of practice at “dead times,” such as 8:30 p.m.
Knigge also guided all SAAC members through potential new NCAA legislation. Most new proposals, such as moving the first permissible basketball contest up one week and allowing all sports to host alumnae/i games without exceptions, was approved by the Vassar student-athletes unanimously. The most hotly contest proposal of the night was one that would allow athletes with eligibility remaining after graduation to participate in Division III athletics thereafter without a special waiver. Some athletes expressed their concern that this rule would bring a disadvantage to schools like Vassar who do not have graduate students. HHowever the proposal was still passed by a majority of Vassar athletes.
With all the new feedback on the NCAA pro- posals, it is now Knigge’s job to relay the thoughts expressed by his peers to the national NCAA office.
When asked whether he thought the NCAA and schools like Vassar have a productive and healthy dialogue, Knigge responded, “Absolutely. I don’t think that it is a perfect relationship, but I am confident that the programs and legislation of the NCAA are made with the well-being of stu- dent-athletes at the forefront of the decision mak- ing process.”