Several South Carolina student-athletes had a chance to sit down with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and address the concerns of their peers, while also hearing from guest speakers about career development and life skills. The Gamecocks were part of a contingent of 68 SEC student-athletes who participated in a joint meeting of the SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Councils and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at the league offices in Birmingham recently.
“I think it was a really good weekend,” said rising sophomore men’s basketball student-athlete Maik Kotsar. “There were a lot of talks about being a leader and how to guide your team. It’s great that the SEC gives us the opportunity to speak with someone with so much authority like the commissioner. It means a lot.”
This marks the first joint meeting of these groups since they were introduced by Commissioner Sankey in 2016. Leadership councils for the sports of football and men’s and women’s basketball were created to provide student-athletes with additional opportunities to engage with campus leaders and SEC staff.
“One of the reasons for these leadership councils is that at many of the SAAC meetings, we did not have representation from football and men’s and women’s basketball,” said Misty Brown, Director of Student-Athlete Engagement for the SEC. “Commissioner Sankey wanted some sport-specific councils to help get feedback on their student-athlete experience on their specific sport. Our goals for the meetings were to have a leadership development component, a career prep component, and to also be out in the community with a service component.”
“It’s about the student-athlete experience and what the conference office can do to support the student-athletes to ensure they have a good experience while they’re here for four or five years,” said Erica Nelson, South Carolina’s Director of Life Skills and Community Outreach.
I think it’s unique to the SEC when you can have an open dialogue with Commissioner Sankey.Simone Wark, women's soccer
In addition to hearing from former student-athletes, the current student-athletes participated in a presentation by Josh Foliart of Growing Leaders, and had chance to share programming ideas from their respective on-campus committees. Commissioner Sankey led a discussion on a variety of topics chosen by the student-athletes. There was also a review of the SEC and NCAA governance structure and approved legislation for the upcoming school year.
“I learned a lot from the SAAC representatives from the other schools,” said rising junior women’s soccer student-athlete Simone Wark. “It really made it clear to me that some of the things we are implementing at South Carolina now are leaps and bounds ahead of other schools, and it brought some things to our attention that we can do better. I think it’s unique to the SEC when you can have an open dialogue with Commissioner Sankey. It’s really evident that he is advocating for rules that will help the student-athlete experience.”
With national student representatives among those who previously voted on new legislation such as “Flex 21,” which in many cases will give student-athletes at least an additional 21 days during the academic year for which they are free from any required athletics activities in addition to current rules related to time off, the student-athletes are truly having a voice.
“A lot of the information that the student-athletes wanted to receive was about the new time-demands legislation,” said rising senior swimmer Travis Morrin about his experience at the SEC meetings. “They were concerned with time management and also had interest in the areas of mental health. We also talked about transfer rules as well as the cost of attendance, and career planning and internship opportunities. We were able to sit down with Commissioner Sankey for over two and a half hours. We get to meet with Coach [Athletics Director Ray] Tanner each semester as well to talk. I don’t know if every school around the country has these opportunities that we have at South Carolina.”
“With the Flex 21 plan, we talked a lot about the pros and cons,” Wark said. “We talked about how that rule is going to help and about how it may be detrimental for some sports. Commissioner Sankey gave us the rundown on what has to happen to make rules changes for student-athletes.”
The group of student-athletes also participated in community service projects at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.