Matt's Convention Recap

The MIAC staff just returned from sunny San Diego, Calif., which was the site of the 2014 NCAA Convention. Today, MIAC Assistant Executive Director Matt Higgins shares his thoughts from his fourth convention experience to conclude the MIAC Convention recap series. A week ago, MIAC ExecutiveDirector Dan McKane led off with his recap, and MIAC Assistant Director MeganGaard offered her experiences earlier this week.

2014 NCAA Convention Recap
By Matt Higgins

Our view of downtown San Diego from the Hilton.
I'm going to start at the end. After we got back, the NCAA sent out a survey asking us to rate the convention, evaluate the sessions we attended and provide feedback on the experience. I gave them some very clear feedback on my survey ... "HAVE IT IN SAN DIEGO EVERY YEAR!"

That should give you a pretty good idea of what I thought about this year's location. We were based at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, the San Diego Convention Center and the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina, and it was spectacular. While the polar vortex was ravaging our homeland, we were enjoying perfect 80 degree weather right on the San Diego harbor, and night-time receptions either on the Hilton's harbor-front plaza or the Marriot's lavish pool deck. I remarked to a few of our ADs about the NCAA reception at the Marriot that it felt like were at a Hollywood party rather than the convention.

Dan and Megan did an awesome job providing the details of the convention and the work side of things, so I'll keep mine a little more touristy, aside from a few MIAC and NCAA notes. My favorite educational session was the Division III social media session, largely because of the performance of Augsburg Assistant A.D. Kelly Anderson Diercks. I thought she was a fantastic representative of the MIAC and Augsburg - yes, I'm definitely biased - but was impressed with the information she presented and the clear and concise way she presented it. I also got to engage in some great discussions at the Division III issues forum, as Megan mentioned, and I thought the Division III business session voting was as smooth and non-controversial as we'll ever see it (though it'd be nice if they sped that session up a bit ... more feedback from my survey).

Jack Ohle, featured in the NCAA Convention Newsletter.
Another cool aspect was seeing the MIAC's impact on a national level. The legislation we sponsored and passed a year ago to allow coaches to use all electronic means of communication in recruiting was still a highly-discussed topic at many forums. It was great to see Gustavus Adolphus College President Jack Ohle finish out his term as the chair of the Division III Presidents' Council and receive worthy recognition throughout the convention, and it was fun for us to spend some time celebrating with President Ohle and his wife as retirement looms. Also, it was great to see Carleton A.D. Gerald Young elected to the NCAA Management Council, and we're excited for him to represent us at the national level going forward. Dan also continued his leadership role as vice chair of the Division III Commissioner's Association. Our conference is widely respected in Division III, and the convention gives us a chance to feel it.

Now on to the fun stuff. Dan and I were very lucky to be part of a select group of Midwest Division III Conference commissioners and assistant commissioners invited to a private tour of the San Diego Padres' Petco Park. CCIW Commissioner Chris Martin used to work for the Padres, and used his connections to get us an amazing behind-the-scenes tour from Padres Vice President and Assistant General Manager Fred Uhlman, Jr. This was my third MLB ballpark tour (PNC in Pittsburgh and Wrigley in Chicago) but the others paled in comparison to the access and information Mr. Uhlman gave us. He was so incredibly nice and welcoming, fielding all our questions, providing great information and even offering to take pictures of our group. "Minnesota Nice" is alive and well in the Padres' front office.

Dan McKane and Matt Higgins at Petco Park.
Highlights of the tour included the Padres clubhouse, weight room, manager's office (complete with a bed that pulls out of the wall, and a broken chair thanks to a 2013 ejection), the Padres' dugout, on-field access, and a suite high above the first-base line that Uhlman and company have converted into a conference room with one of the best views in America as they work on things like the draft and trade deadline. We also learned that the Hilton where we were staying will be the site of the 2014 MLB winter meetings. Very cool, and hopefully the Twins pull off a couple big moves in the same meeting rooms and lobbies where we were conducting our business!

San Diego also lived up to its reputation as a city with some outstanding restaurants. The MIAC staff always has a working lunch on Friday to prep for our conference meeting. This year, we had that lunch at The Fish Market, right on the water next to the USS Midway Museum, and the seafood and wait staff was incredible. I had a skewer of scallops and bacon-wrapped shrimp which was amazing, and Dan raved about his yellow tail. If you're in San Diego, the MIAC highly recommends The Fish Market. And yes, we did manage to get our work done as well.

Wednesday and Thursday I also had lunch with different groups of MIAC administrators in the Gaslamp Quarter. Probably my favorite thing about the convention each year is the chance it gives us to connect with everyone in our conference, and other friends throughout the Division. That is always great regardless of the location, but it's even better when you can converse and laugh over lunch on a outdoor patio in January.

Whale watching was a success.
Finally, I'd like to crown myself the winner of our trip to San Diego because unlike Dan and Megan, who had to rush from the Business Session to the airport to head back to cold, snowy Minnesota, I parlayed it into a long weekend and my girlfriend, Leanna, flew out Friday so we could spend a little more time exploring everything San Diego has to offer (while escaping winter for a few extra days). We moved up the shore to the Wyndham San Diego Bayside for two more nights, and had an awesome view of the waterfront from our 14th-floor balcony.

Highlights from the rest of the weekend included a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo, including an active jaguar that looked hungry for human and my first-ever glimpse of the giant pandas. The following day we did a whale watching boat cruise and saw five gray whales, as well as countless dolphins, seals and sea lions. We ate some great food, sampled the night life in the historic Gaslamp Quarter and strolled through Seaport Village.

You stay classy, San Diego. Thanks for a great time.
The worst thing about San Diego? Getting on the plane to come home! But even though I endured a 75-degree temperature change when I landed Monday night, the convention certainly achieved its goals with me and our staff. We were able to network, learn and receive a first-hand reminder of why our work to provide an amazing experience for student-athletes is so important. 

At this convention, the larger discussions centered on things like the future of Division I, possibly paying student-athletes and other huge topics that could forever alter the landscape of major college athletics. But amid all that and the accompanying media coverage, it was nice to be reminded that our perspective in Division III is continually refreshing and our priorities are always focused in the right direction. Though the one percent that receives the most media attention and money certainly challenges some people's opinion of the NCAA, the 99 percent operating out of the spotlight is truly focused on enhancing the student-athlete experience to help shape the leaders of the future.

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