The NCAA recertified UTPA's athletics program as a Division I institution earlier this month after receiving a self-study the University spent the past year conducting.
"Bottom line is we are Division I, and we will remain Division I," said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. "Being certified by the NCAA as a Division I university allows us to participate in a full range of sports and in leagues and tournaments."
The University must undergo a yearlong study every 10 years as part of the NCAA Division I athletics certification program. The assessment looks at governance and commitment to rules compliance, academic integrity, gender and diversity issues and student-athlete well-being.
The purpose of the self-study is to ensure integrity in universities’ athletics programs by setting standards for operating them and imposing sanctions when an institution fails to address issues within their programs.
UTPA underwent the intensive self-study, which included dozens of people working thousands of hours, to make sure the University met the standards put in place by the NCAA to maintain its membership in the organization.
Nelsen and members of the steering committee that oversaw the self-study said they were especially pleased that UTPA received its certification without a site visit by NCAA officials, which is a standard procedure in the recertification process.
"We know that we're doing the right thing with athletics, and we know that the NCAA knows we're doing the right thing with athletics," Nelsen said.
UTPA Director of Athletics Chris King said the athletics program has a good rapport with the rest of the University’s operations and all areas of UTPA work together to ensure a positive experience for student-athletes.
“I think it solidifies the fact that UTPA Athletics is a major part of the academic mission of the University,” King said. “There are a number of different areas in the NCAA's certification: academics, compliance, diversity, equity and student-athlete welfare issues, and the main part of certification is to make sure that you're meeting all the operating principles of what the NCAA requires and we've done that.”
King also said he was especially proud of the fact that the institution was able to conduct the study in such a short period of time, considering the University acquired new leadership in the past couple of years.
“At most institutions, the way the process is set up, is that this is done over a 10-year period,” he said. “However, we've had to play a bit of catch up based on lack of stability and continuity in the athletics administration the past few years. Not having the Committee on Athletics Certification representatives come to campus that's pretty much unheard of ... but we answered every question, we showcased that we are meeting all five of the operating principles and I'm proud of our department, our coaches and the rest of the University faculty and staff who assisted intercollegiate athletics in this process.”
Dr. Susan Griffith, executive director of the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (OIRE) and the chair of the steering committee that oversaw the self study, called the experience worthwhile and praised the committee members and staff who worked on compiling the report for their hard work.
"I couldn't have done the study without S.J. (Sethi, assistant director of OIRE), especially, and all the team members. Everybody pulled their weight and put it together," Griffith said. "The process showed areas for improvement in athletics, and the (athletics) director (Chris King) was already working on those before he even found out what was happening; he already had teams working on things to improve athletics."
NCAA Division I members originally approved its certification program during its 1993 convention. UTPA conducted self studies in 1994-1995 and in 2000-2002. The NCAA is currently working on revamping its certification program.