A Pepperdine volleyball player becomes the national voice for NCAA Division I student-athletes of the West Coast Conference.
Freshman student-athlete James “Jimmy” Gehrels was sitting through a first-year sports administration seminar entitled “Why Sports? Understanding Its Impact on Society” when he realized his interest in sports was much more vested in athlete advocacy than the business of the industry.
Once class was dismissed, Gehrels approached his professor, former Pepperdine athletics director John G. Watson (’72, MA ’75), about the types of activities he could become involved in that would allow him to explore his passion for college sports.
Watson introduced Gehrels to Pepperdine’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a group of about 30 athletes consisting of two to three representatives from each sports team that acts as a liaison between student-athletes, the athletics administration, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Gehrels enthusiastically applied to join the committee, and by his sophomore year, the volleyball player had scored a position within SAAC to represent Pepperdine’s student- athletes on a national level.
Now a senior and copresident of the Pepperdine Waves Leadership Council (formerly SAAC), Gehrels has spent the last two years working with the University’s leadership team and athletics administration staff, as well as NCAA authorities, to ensure that the thoughts, opinions, and concerns of all student-athletes are being properly addressed and resolved, and that any relevant news from the NCAA is appropriately shared with the University’s athletics community.
Gehrels’ management of these relationships extends to Division I (D-I) student-athletes attending any of the 10 schools with membership in the West Coast Conference (WCC), a collegiate athletic conference that currently involves private, faith-based institutions throughout California, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
In November 2015 Gehrels helped produce a survey to determine how D-I student-athletes across the nation feel about the time commitments required to play on a college sports team. The research survey, which received the highest response rate in NCAA survey history, revealed that most student-athletes struggle with time management. Between rigorous workout routines, practices, and games, they often miss engaging in non-athletic campus activities, social interactions with their peers, and rest.
“The NCAA has a pretty tight definition of the [non-athletic activities] that are enforced by hourly limits, and so I think that was the reason why there were some student-athletes saying they were spending 40 hours a week on their sport,” Gehrels shares. “It was brought to the attention of my committee, and some other NCAA groups, the need to really work on defining what counts toward playing [sports], and what might not necessarily count but would still be good to track, to have a better understanding of how much time student-athletes are really spending on their sport, as well as on other aspects of their college lives.”
Gehrels points out that this is an indication of a lack of education provided to potential D-I student- athletes during the recruitment process—an issue that can be solved by informing them ahead of time about the realistic time demands and commitment requirements of D-I players.
In addition to his Waves Leadership Council responsibilities, Gehrels also attended the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C.
“That convention was one of the first times when we as student-athletes not only had a voice, but a vote on all these different matters,” he says. “It was important to see how much the different administrators, as well as NCAA staff, really do value our opinions and voices as student-athletes.”
To that end, Gehrels encourages all fellow student-athletes to share their opinions with Waves Leadership Council members in an effort to influence the changes they wish to see. As he mentions, “It’s hearing all these sorts of thoughts and ideas that have helped the [Waves Leadership Council] come up with some of these concepts that are working through the legislative process. A lot of that comes down to us as student-athletes being educated on the issues.”
Gehrels also notes that his participation in these committees is partly due to the encouragement he receives from men’s volleyball head coach Marv Dunphy (’74), who deeply believes in Gehrels’ abilities to improve the nature of college sports through his involvement with the NCAA.
“Jimmy Gehrels is impacting the way a few things will be done down the road with our sport and with other sports. I’m just really proud that he’s having this wonderful impact,” Dunphy says. “He has this great vision of where he wants to go, and even more so, plans for how to get there … he is solid in every way. He is going to do well.”