New Mexico's Spencer Wants Student-Athletes To Use Their Voice

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Kendall Spencer is a very busy young man, and that’s just the way the 22-year-old senior from the University of New Mexico likes it.

In addition to being a psychology and business double-major with visions of obtaining a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience, the 2012 NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Champion in the Long Jump is currently the national chair on the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

“It’s like they say: ‘When you do something you love you never work a day in your life’,” said Spencer on May 31 while in Colorado Springs to attend the Mountain West SAAC and Board of Directors meetings. It was the first time in the history of the league that student-athletes participated in the BOD meetings. “My responsibilities with our advisory committee are numerous, as well as what I’m doing on the track and in the classroom.”

While all of the activities and responsibilities may appear like a full plate, Spencer wouldn’t change a thing.

“I have a lot of fun doing what I’m doing and being involved in SAAC gives me the opportunity to network with other student-athletes,” he added. “What’s also great about it is I get to interact with school and staff administrators that normally don’t get the opportunity to interact with student-athletes. It’s great to sit down with university presidents and ADs and conference commissioners and discussing student-athlete welfare.”

Spencer sounds like a seasoned pro when discussing NCAA governance, which is quite the leap from a few short years ago when the San Mateo, Calif., native wasn’t even sure if he’d be attending a Division I college.

Lightly recruited in high school, Spencer ultimately found his way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and within two years claimed a National Championship in the Long Jump by posting a school-record mark of 26’-3.50’’. A three-time Indoor Track & Field All-American, Spencer recently finished his collegiate athletic career by competing in the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field West Preliminary, where he placed 17th.

“No matter how it ended for me, here I am four years later getting ready to graduate with two and a half degrees, debt-free and a National Title,” commented Spencer, who also took part in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. “I’m so thankful for that opportunity.”

Similar to his ascension in the track and field ranks, Spencer quickly shot up the ranks within the SAAC, even if that wasn’t necessarily by design.

“SAAC was honestly something I kind of stumbled upon,” Spencer said. “I had been involved with our school SAAC for one or two years, but back then it was mainly about community service. The NCAA has a leadership forum every year and they advertised this opportunity to go learn about the governance structure, meet other student-athletes and do some other fun stuff with your peers, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I did, and by the time I got back, I’ve never been so blown away. We sat in on governance structure meetings and we learned a lot.”

After sitting in on the governance structure meetings during the NCAA leadership forum, Spencer was intrigued by the process and wanted to become more involved.

“We had a sit-down session with the national SAAC chair, as well as other individuals, and that was my first time realizing that we really do have a voice on the national scale,” Spencer remarked. “Once that was brought to my attention, the first thing I did was ask, ‘how do I get more involved?’ I was talking to one of the representatives, and they told me that one of the national representatives, Eugene Daniels’ (Colorado State) term was up and they were going to be looking for another representative and so I thought I’d throw my name in the hat. I got it and it’s been a position that has been amazing ever since.”

Spencer’s appointment to the national chair makes it two student-athletes from the Mountain West to hold that position in the last three years.

“By having Mountain West student-athletes serve in the Chair position two out of the last three years (Eugene Daniels, CSU and Kendall Spencer, UNM), it shows the dedication and drive of our student-athletes to become role models in areas outside of the competition venue,” said Mountain West Assistant Commissioner for Championships, Dawn Anderson. “There is a passion, especially in Kendall, to encourage other student-athletes and administrators to have the Mountain West become leaders and set an example in increasing student-athlete involvement at all levels within the new NCAA governance model.”

Since being appointed to the national chair back in January, Spencer has been aggressive in his pursuit to change how the SAAC is perceived on an institutional and national level. He wants student-athletes to be aware that the SAAC is much more than just community service projects.

“A lot of the work that I’ve been focusing on has been from the top down with our structure of institutional SAACs,” Spencer mentioned. “I’ve gone to leadership council meetings and learned we’ll have voting privileges and representation on the Board of Directors. That is a huge responsibility. Institutional SAACs needs to take that with pride and restructure how they do things on the school level. You can’t just focus on community service because we’re being given more opportunities to have more of a voice and say so in legislation.”

With initial changes in the Division I governance structure likely to take place in early 2015, Spencer sees this as the time for student-athletes to make sure their voices are being heard.

“Having our voices heard is paramount,” said Spencer, who will hold the national chair position through the 2014-15 academic year. “As with any job and any organization; just because you speak up you don’t necessarily get what you’ve argued for. But, the point is that you’re in the room and your voice is being heard. For college athletes, that makes a big impact because administrations see that we’re taking the initiative, and that’s what student welfare is all about. Administrators cannot say that we don’t have time, because they are seeing that we are taking an active role in our own welfare.”

As the potential restructuring relates to the Mountain West, Spencer would like the Conference to be a national example for how the SAAC should be fully engaged with their respective institution’s leadership council.

“One of the things I really want to focus on is creating a model for our Conference where student-athletes and their advisory committees are encouraged to attend their school’s leadership and all-staff meetings so that everyone is on the same page,” suggested Spencer. “With student-athletes being given voting privileges, it’s going to be more important than ever before that student-athletes are educated on the affairs of their institution. So, when I solicit feedback from the individual SAACs, they are adequately prepared for what it is that they are going to be asked to do.”

To current and future student-athletes that are considering getting involved in the SAAC, Spencer says that while talking with administrators may be intimidating at first, opening those lines of communication ultimately benefit all parties.

“The biggest advice I can give to a student-athlete is to get involved and communicate with your administrators,” Spencer said. “Don’t be afraid to communicate. The administration is there to help you and as a resource, so get involved and don’t be afraid to speak up. You have a voice … use it.”