Communication is a necessary skill needed for teams to find success in sports, and at Vassar it is no different. The SAAC, or student-athlete advisory committee, is a committee comprised of student-athletes at the College that seeks to maintian productive relationships betweens athletics, the student body, and the faculty by creating channels of communication. SAACs exist at all levels of NCAA sports: nationally, conference-wide, and within each institution. NCAA legislation even mandates that all member schools as well as conferences have their own SAAC. Senior women’s basketball player, Colleen O’Connell, is the president of Vassar’s SAAC. In an emailed statement, O’Connell described her role in the organization as well as how she feels about being a part of SAAC. “I’m currently the president of SAAC. As president, my role is to oversee our program and steer our members toward achieving our goals for the year. I consider it a great honor to be able to represent our student-athletes.”
Vassar College’s SAAC is made up of two student athletes from each varsity team on campus. These representatives are usually nominated and elected by their respective teams. Within SAAC there is also an executive board that handles the organization and actual running of the SAAC. Vassar College’s SAAC also represents Vassar College student-athletes at the conference-wide level. Senior men’s lacrosse player, Scott Brekne, plays a prominent role in making sure Vassar voices are heard, as he explained in a written statement, “I am the Liberty League Representative on SAAC. Just a few weeks ago, I represented Vassar and our SAAC at a Liberty League SAAC Conference in Utica, NY.”
In 2011, the Division III SAAC initiated a partnership with the Special Olympics during the 2011 NCAA Convention. This partnership was officially launched on Aug. 1, 2011. The reasons for this official partnership are outlined in the NCAA Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Informational Guide and Best Practices release available on the NCAA website: “The SAAC [chose] Special Olympics because programs are offered in every state, it involves hands-on interaction and physical activities, events can be measured by volunteer hours or funds raised and Special Olympics is an established nationally recognized organization.”
Many Vassar College athletic teams have engaged in community service and outreach initiatives in the past. The women’s lacrosse team is a part of the Friends of Jaclyn organization, which connects pediatric brain tumor patients with college and high school athletic teams. Both fencing teams host an annual blood drive with NY Blood services in Walker, while women’s field hockey held a “Play 4 the Cure” game in order to help battle breast cancer. Fundraising for multiple sclerosis research has also been a mission for the men’s lacrosse team. In the 9th annual “Hour of Power” fundraiser to benefit sarcoma research, swimming and diving was heavily involved.
O’Connell explained that SAAC is working on upholding the community service ideals of the NCAA, by making Special Olympics more available and more a part of Vassar College Athletics. “We are cultivating a relationship with the Special Olympics. A goal is to have athletes from the Special Olympics honored at a halftime next semester. Also, we are setting up schedules for opportunities to volunteer with the Special Olympics program.”
Brekne agrees that community service, especially with the Special Olympics, is one of SAAC’s main focuses this year but he also outlined the other: “Our main goal is to enhance the student-athlete experience here at Vassar. This year we are focusing on enhancing school spirit and support at games by developing the Brew Crew. We are also encouraging athletes to get involved with The Special Olympics in order to give back to the community.”
The SAAC is attempting to help support teams by making them more accessible to fans. Senior men’s basketball player, Jonathan Safir, is a vital part of helping make this initiative happen; “I am the Vice-President of SAAC. I am also in charge of the social media pages and push to increase fan interest and attendance at games. We created the Brew Crew Facebook page and the Vassar Brew Crew Instagram account to try and enhance support,” he explained in a written statement.
Safir explained how the SAAC has been increasing fan-support through the Brew Crew; “We have designated certain sporting events as Brew Crew events, which means at those games there are halftime competitions where the winners get prizes. So far, our prizes have included gift cards from BurgerFi and Bacio’s, as well as Brew Crew t-shirts. Our goal with these competitions is to engage fans and coaches from other departments, essentially competing against each other for prizes.”
Brekne also explained the Brew Crew in greater detail and he also found Safir’s social media efforts to be positive. “We [SAAC] have developed a strong social media presence and have developed the Brew Crew . Brew Crew is [the] name that we use for the student section at each sporting event. We are featuring different teams at different points in their seasons and are encouraging fans to come out and support our teams here.”
As president, one of O’Connell’s responsibilities is to focus on how the organization maintains visibility and how SAAC and its members follow through on ideas. “We have focused on dividing our goals and having members commit to working towards them. We have also begun building a social media presence to keep fans updated on SAAC events and athletic competitions.”
All three executive board members felt that SAAC’s main purpose was to create a more positive time at Vassar for all student athletes. Safir was particularly emphatic about it being SAAC’s mission. “I would describe SAAC as a student-organization designed for the sole purpose to enhance the experience of all Vassar athletes.”
It seems that this year’s SAAC has been relatively successful. In particular the Brew Crew games have had an important and positive impact on the student-athletes themselves. Junior women’s field hockey player, Lauren Wiebe described how fans affect her playing style. “As a player, I love having more fans at a game. I’m sure most people would say this, but I usually play with a little more umph when I know I’ve got a crowd watching. More importantly though, I like knowing that all the hard work I put into my sport matters to a larger community. Having fans at a game is the most significant way someone can say they care about what you’re worked hard for!”
Safir seems to understand how Wiebe feels about engaging with the Vassar College community through athletics, and he cites this as the main reason he wanted to be in Vassar College’s SAAC. “I chose to be a part of SAAC because I knew it would be a way to get involved and potentially have a say regarding athletics and their role and purpose on this campus. Athletics are not the most popular here at Vassar…”
Another focus of SAAC is to help connect student-athletes and athletics to other parts of the Vassar College community. O’Connell considers that a central part of SAAC’s definition. “SAAC is probably best described as a powerful voice for student-athletes, as it bridges the gap between student-athletes and the athletic department, as well as the academic side of campus. We work to provide the best experience for Vassar student-athletes.”
Halftime competitions and a strong social media presence have all helped to provide more incentives for other athletes as well as non-athletes to come support teams. Social media in particular has helped increase the immediate visibility of games, meets, matches and team competitions in general. SAAC has also given t-shirts out at events along with gift cards and prizes. SAAC hopes to make Vassar Athletics more accessible to the overall community.
SAAC is an integral part of helping student-athlete’s voices be heard. It creates an open dialogue between individual student-athletes and their teams with the larger Vassar College community and extends beyond the Vassar bubble.