MITCHELL — The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics was the first in college sports to allow students to approve agreements for name, image and likeness contracts for paid athletes.
But while NIL are the three magic letters that have changed a lot in major college sports, it remains a relatively small part of the NAIA landscape, according to Great Plains Athletic Conference commissioner Corey Westra, who visited Mitchell. Thursday. Westra spoke as a guest of the Mitchell Rotary Club at Blarney’s Sports Bar and Grill.
“There are a handful of NIL agreements in the NAIA,” Westra said. “There are GPAC athletes who have small NIL contracts. But it is not generalized. »
He alluded to the dust between Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher in the offseason, accusing each other of buying players and cheating on NIL policies.
“It’s a different world and a different amount of money,” Westra said. “It’s a very small amount we’re talking about here.”
Likewise, he said, GPAC schools need to be aware and note what’s going on in the NCAA transfer portal, even though the NAIA doesn’t have its own portal and teams technically don’t have no access to this information. But people with connections to portal actors can connect a potential transfer to a new institution.
“We have seen some advantages in the NAIA with the portal. … There have been athletes who have decided that the NCAA is not where they want to be and they come to watch the NAIA or the GPAC. … Is this a big thing? Yes and no. But I think it will only grow from here.
Westra spoke to the Mitchell Republic about a number of GPAC-related issues for a Q-and-A, with these responses below, edited for clarity:
Q: The NAIA has had a few years with the one-division format for men’s and women’s basketball. The pandemic is in this period, but what is your impression of how this is being received so far?
A: I think it went very well. It’s definitely different and it’s been a learning curve. Now that we’re entering our third year in this format, part of that learning curve is fading because we’re starting to know who those teams are now. Last year, Campbellsville (Ky.) is no longer one of those mysteries or a Westmont (Calif.) is no longer a mystery. Likewise, Dakota Wesleyan, Dordt, Morningside in the GPAC are no mystery as they begin to realize that more needs to be known about the other side. … That first year out of the gate, it was definitely a feeling of ‘We’re DI, they’re D-II’ or ‘We’re D-II, they’re DI, we shouldn’t even be in the same room together . It broke down. … From a branding standpoint, it’s been good. It’s NAIA basketball, all right. … As a conference, we compete. I was protecting GPAC schools and our interests, but we are competitive with everyone.
Q: With women’s wrestling, what needs to happen to make it a conference sport or does GPAC content have it in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference? (Eight schools sponsor women’s wrestling in the KCAC, including four from the GPAC, with Dakota Wesleyan starting the sport this year.)
A: It’s not in a bad place right now. With the KCAC, we still have the chance to qualify for nationals. For it to be a conference sport, it would have to be a sustainable group of six schools that we know will be in it long term to be under our banner. We will have to decide if we are going to have duels or if we are just going to have a tournament (GPAC) and let them go to the opening (tournaments) throughout the year. Long play, we’re probably still a few years away. Dakota Wesleyan is just getting started and they need to build their roster. Doane is just getting started, we’ll see.
Q: GPAC volleyball is obviously a pride for the conference, with seven teams ranked in the top 25. What commonalities do you see in the conference that lead to this success?
I think this year we have a lot of rosters with depth. We had a lot of kids who wanted to come back and finish their fifth grade. The level of experience in the league this year is very high and gives us three teams in the top five and five teams in the national top 10. GPAC volleyball is recognized as high level volleyball and players in this region are willing to stay close to home to play. They know they can play Dakota Wesleyan and they’re going to go to the national tournament. When the programs cross this threshold, it is a big problem. When you look at our schedules, and it’s ranked team versus ranked team every week, there aren’t many conferences that have that kind of depth.
Q: The NAIA has 16 teams in the football playoffs and the GPAC usually has two teams that qualify, with a third team usually knocking on the door. What kind of conversation is out there about expanding the playoffs?
It was a topic at our fall meetings and it was surface level, but yeah. More conferences add football and that means more (automatic qualifiers) of those conferences, which means fewer general offers. You have to start looking to see if the really high ranked teams are going to be on the outside because there are fewer slots. I expect over the next few years this will become a very important topic in the NAIA. Sixteen has been around for a long time and it has worked well for a long time. What this new number will be, I don’t know. But it’s definitely on the radar.