Jan 29, 2015
D-III Sickle Cell Vote Set

After a year’s worth of education and discussion, a revised proposal on the issue of sickle cell trait status confirmation for Division III student-athletes will be voted on at the 2013 NCAA Convention on Jan. 19. So what’s changed in the last 12 months?
At last January’s Convention, a number of Division III delegates indicated they were unprepared to vote on a proposal to require sickle cell trait status confirmation status, citing concerns about costs. The proposal was then tabled and referred to the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) for further review. Since then, the Division III governance structure has launched a comprehensive educational campaign for its members and is returning to the 2013 Convention with a revised proposal that offers enhanced funding and a number of new twists.

If passed, the legislation would require all NCAA Division III student-athletes to either be tested for sickle cell trait, provide documentation of a previous test, or sign a waiver that they do not want to be tested. If they choose the third option, student-athletes must receive education about the ramifications of not being tested.

The rule would go into effect Aug. 1, 2013 and schools would be required to finalize confirmation of sickle cell trait status for all student-athletes no later than the 2014-15 academic year, including mandatory confirmation of status for all incoming student-athletes (first-year and transfers) in 2013-14.

According to the NCAA, the specifics of the rule spell out that schools can confirm the sickle cell trait status of student-athletes before participation in intercollegiate athletics in one of the following manners:

  • Documentation: The student-athlete may provide documented results of a sickle cell solubility test administered before participation.
  • Pending documentation: A student-athlete who has taken a sickle cell solubility test but whose results are not yet confirmed may participate provided the student-athlete engages in mandatory education, signs a waiver and receives appropriate precautions as set forth by the institution.
  • Opt-out: The student-athlete may sign a waiver declining confirmation of sickle cell trait status. Before signing a waiver, the student-athlete shall be provided education regarding the implications of exercising the waiver option. Before athletics participation, a student-athlete who signs a waiver under this provision shall engage in mandatory education regarding sickle cell trait status and receive accommodations as determined by the institution.

The difference in this year’s proposal over last year’s is that the 2012 version wasn’t as comprehensive or as educationally grounded as this year’s version. For example, unlike the sickle cell confirmation legislation that has already passed in Divisions I and II, the 2013 Division III proposal focuses on educating all student-athletes, even if they think they’re not at risk. Another difference is that the Division III proposal requires schools to explain the condition’s risks for those who opt out of the confirmation process.

Meanwhile, to address the funding concerns, the NCAA Division III Presidents Council, which endorsed the original 2012 proposal, voted in October to authorize a one-time $220,000 allocation to help schools defray the costs of testing. The allocation would provide each school with up to $500 to offset the costs of testing. The additional funding augments a deal the NCAA has struck with Quest Diagnostics, a national lab service, to provide testing and results in a timely fashion at a reduced rate. The NCAA estimates that for as low as $8.50 (and up to $32.50 depending on the process), a student-athlete’s results can be made available in a matter of days.

Since January, the CSMAS has undertaken a year-long effort to educate Division III schools and student-athletes about the risks associated with sickle cell trait.

“We’re much more educated to address the issue this year,” University of Redlands Athletics Director and Management Council chair Jeff Martinez told NCAA.org. “People should now understand not only the reasons for the proposal and the benefits it provides for student-athlete health and safety but also how we go about implementing it.”

After a year of discussion, there are many in the membership who believe the revised proposal is much stronger than the one that presented in 2012.

“To our division’s credit, perhaps there was wisdom in our hesitancy,” said Washington and Lee Athletics Director Jan Hathorn, who also is a member of the Management Council. “To some, last year’s action may have looked like people were just being stubborn, but actually, the hesitancy was based more on not knowing what this was all about, or where it was coming from, than simple defiance. I was a doubter in January as well, but the investment in sending this back and looking into the issue in detail has been very informative for me.”

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