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‘They Want Us to Have a Voice, but They Put a Muzzle on Us’

San Diego — The proposed governance changes under discussion at this week’s NCAA convention would provide new powers to athletic directors and others who work closely with students. But the ideas would give little voice to the athletes themselves.

Melissa Minton, a member of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, hopes to change that. On Wednesday, the opening day of the convention here, she spoke out in two forums and asked tough questions of Mark Emmert during a private meeting the NCAA president held with student leaders.

Her moves illustrate some students’ broader frustrations with the NCAA’s efforts to look after their interests. On Thursday, as the association begins debate over the future of its governing model, a national athlete-reform group plans to fly a banner over the San Diego Convention Center that says, “#All Players United for an equal voice. Wake up NCAA!”

For Ms. Minton, a former soccer player at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the concerns go beyond the governance slight. She says the association makes it difficult for members of her group to speak publicly about problems they see. And she is troubled by the NCAA’s attempts to manage the group’s messages.

“They want us to have a voice, but they put a muzzle on us,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

As an example, she said the NCAA requires that any “position of advocacy” taken by members of its athlete-advisory group must be approved first by the NCAA’s president or its executive committee. The NCAA’s guidance, a copy of which she shared with The Chronicle, applies to any “verbal interview and/or written requests,” including surveys and emails.

The policy designates the group’s chair as the “speaking agent” of the committee, and requires all of its 31 members to make clear that any individual views they express are not representative of the student-athlete committee or the NCAA.

“Opinions can only be given on an association issue,” the NCAA language states, if they are to “express the individual’s view … unless the person has been designated as a speaking agent on that issue.”

Ms. Minton, whose two-year term on the committee ends after this week, does not appreciate the restrictions. “Basically they want to filter any and everything we say/do,” she wrote in an email. (An NCAA spokeswoman denied that the association squelches students’ voices, and said the requirement for committee chairs to speak for the group is consistent across all NCAA committees.)

Previous leaders of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee—one of the NCAA’s primary vehicles for understanding athletes’ concerns—have complained about the association’s attempts to control their messages. To speak with the group’s members, reporters typically must make formal requests through the NCAA. And the association’s public-relations representatives sometimes sit in on interviews.

The NCAA also monitors the group’s use of social media, Ms. Minton said. The committee has a limited presence on Twitter and Facebook, posting mostly informational updates (“Currently at the Keynote Luncheon listening to Keynote Speaker Jim Nantz,” the group tweeted on Wednesday) and rarely staking out positions.

Ms. Minton would like to see the group use its platforms to describe the useful work it does behind the scenes.

“We have the potential to impact things a lot,” she said. She and her colleagues regularly meet with fellow athletes and campus and conference leaders to hash out positions. This week, in addition to meeting with Mr. Emmert, committee members visited with Jean Frankel, an NCAA consultant who is overseeing the association’s push to restructure.

To Ms. Minton, the NCAA’s exclusion of students from the proposed new governing bodies was “disheartening because it was not at all what we as SAAC want. We want our voice to be heard.”

On Wednesday, she said, she asked Mr. Emmert what new responsibilities students might have as part of a revised governance model. That’s still unclear, but she was encouraged by his response.

Ms. Minton couldn’t remember the exact words the NCAA president used, but she recalled that he expressed concern over the lack of student representation. That gave her confidence that the group’s fortunes—and perhaps those of college athletes—might one day change.

“He’s going to try his best,” Ms. Minton said of the NCAA leader. “I know he’s going to throw it out there, that ‘Hey, student-athletes are what we’re about, and we need to get them on here.’”

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