Dec. 9, 2005
by Sports Information Student Assistant, Ben Murphy
Almost everyone has heard of a student government before. What about a student government just for athletes? What about an organization that is formed to let athletes have a voice? Where is a place that athletes can meet to discuss issues about there teams and upcoming events? According to Garrett Johnson and Dr. John Lata, Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) is where it’s at.
Last month I had the privilege of meeting with Garret Johnson, president of SAAC, and Dr. John Lata, advisor of SAAC, to try and learn more about this organization. I first interviewed Garrett Johnson, a red-shirt junior shot putter on the track team and Florida State’s 2nd Rhodes Scholar. Johnson joined SAAC at the end of his freshman year and then started his first full year as a sophomore taking over as SAAC Representative for Gary Visser. He is in his second year as president and talked about how it wasn’t just a one-man show.
“Responsibilities, I like to think that I don’t really have any firm responsibilities, said the All-American. “I’m responsible though, for taking care of meetings, making sure that the agenda is ready to go, and that we have everything lined up. But, as far as community service or leading initiatives, I mean everyone is involved and so I just help out wherever I can and if I have some ideas about ways to increase community service or just make an improvement for student well-being then I’ll go ahead and initiate them and get other people to help me, but anyone can do that so I’m in no way the leader of SAAC, it really is a lot of teamwork.”
I later interviewed Dr. Lata, who has been the director of student services for the last five years, and I wanted to get his perspective of the SAAC organization. He said, “Sometimes we have things that we like them to get excited about and I guess my job is to help them get excited about those things. We do a lot of the leg work in this office in terms of getting it up and prepared, but they are the ones who are running the show.”
Moving on, let’s get down to business and figure out what SAAC is all about. Dr. Lata gave me a brief summary of just that, “Student Athlete Advisory Council is composed of two members from each sport team. We’ve got 19 different teams so we generally have 30-35 people. They meet about every two weeks. They discuss issues that they may have on their team; they discuss upcoming events that they’d like other student-athletes to support them on. Then, we as an administration have some information that we like to get out to their teams.”
Then, I asked why each of them thought it was important to have this organization for the student-athletes. Garrett responded, “It provides (student-athletes) a way to, I guess have their concerns or any problems that they’re encountering if they don’t want to go to a coach or if they don’t want to go to Mr. Hart they can go to their SAAC Rep and then we can have a discussion as a SAAC body and figure out “well what do we think about that, is it really a problem and is it something that we can help change or help fix.” So, in that way, it provides just a way for us to communicate because with track being here on campus and golf off campus and football over here, we sometimes miss the opportunity to just hang out with each other and figure out what’s going on in each sport. Therefore, having a SAAC where you have team leaders from each sport come together and talk about whatever is going on as you saw in the meeting on Sunday, I think that’s important.”
Adding on to that, Dr. Lata commented, “I think it’s two-fold. It gives us an opportunity to get the information out to the student-athletes. Coaches are telling them what to do all the time. I would prefer not to have to go to there coach to find student-athletes to do some of the other things. It’s kind of nice to come from the students, so I can send one of the SAAC members to a team and have them say hey were looking for some people to do some community service. It just sounds different coming from one of there peers as opposed to there coach saying I need someone to go do community service, or whatever it may be. So, I think it’s nice for us in terms of communication with the student-athletes; it’s just another way to get the information into their hands.
“The other thing I think it does is it helps some of the student-athletes we have become leaders,” continued Lata. “They are kind of put into a leadership role. If you want a leadership role, this is a good place to go learn to become a leader. If you don’t want to be a leader, but you’re on SAAC, you end up becoming a leader and I think it’s a good quality to have. I think it looks good on your resume when you’re coming out, and it shows you’re a leader on your team. You may not have been the captain of the team, but you were a leader on your team.”
SAAC, as both gentlemen informed me, is composed of athletes from all of the varsity athletic teams here at Florida State. The way they choose the team representatives is interesting. Dr. Lata described, “We do it in two different ways. We ask the outgoing SAAC member who they think would be good to fill their role and they generally have a pretty good sense of who might be good. Somebody may have shown interest in it, and then we double check with the coaches. We want to make sure it is somebody that the coach would be willing to accept as a leader on their team. Very rarely do I have a coach say that person would not be good. It doesn’t happen very often, not to say it hasn’t happened, but generally the leaders on the team can spot the upcoming leaders on the team. We, until just recently didn’t allow freshman to be on the SAAC. However, lately that’s changed. We’ve had some really strong freshman come in that were interested in it and we’ve welcomed them in with open arms and you really can’t spot them as being freshman in groups. The incoming members will come to the last meeting of the year with the outgoing members to be introduced and we kind of bring them in and tell them what it’s all about.”
“We try to have at least two representatives from each team on SAAC,” explained Johnson, discussing the process of getting teammates involved in specific events. We get people involved in helping with community service or whatever SAAC is doing just by recruiting our teammates, helping them to see the benefit of community service or informing them of different things on campus or off campus opportunities that they should be aware of, and so that’s how we make sure that people have an opportunity to get involved.”
Those answers just weren’t enough, I was thirsty for more. I really wanted to get an in depth look at what goes on so I went back to a trusted source. I asked Dr. Lata to explain exactly how the student-athletes help their specific sports and the programs in which they coordinate.
“One of the things we do is we have an academic advisor come to every meeting. She brings information and it may be, don’t forget you have to register for classes by this date, or don’t forget the study hours are going to be changed in this way, so it’s important that information gets back to the student-athletes and I think that they serve a very important role in getting that information back to them.
“A lot of times we’ll have community service events coming up and we’ll ask for volunteers and I know the SAAC members will go back to their teams and see who might be interested in it. Sometimes teams as a whole like to get involved in community service events. It’s a lot of fun to do something different with your team and you learn all about those people. The other thing is there are scholarships, internships, awards, and conferences and things that people might not be aware of and the SAAC members find out about those things first so it’s an opportunity for them to take advantage of these great opportunities as well. In terms of programs they coordinate, like I said the Golden Nole Awards Banquet, freshman orientation, and PHAT Tuesdays.”
He added, “They also do an international student-athlete gathering, we call it Culture Feast, and we run it at Crenshaw Lanes, the bowling alley. We rent it for three hours one night, we invite all the international student-athletes to come, which we’ve got about 60 here, about 10% of our student-athlete population, but it’s for everybody. We generally end up with about 100 people. They come out and they get crazy. They are just competitive, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing and it’s fun to watch people who’ve never bowled before be competitive at bowling.”
In concluding my interview, I wanted to know if there were any special projects that SAAC was working on right now or anything in the near future. I went back to Garrett for one final round of questions. “Well, every year, were trying to increase the number of hours of community service we contribute,” said Johnson. Last year we did 4500 hours total within the athletic department, so this year were trying to kick it up to 5000, 5500 this would be great. Also, the survival kits were trying to get out and then each year we’re responsible for organizing different things. We do a welcome back picnic for our athletes, we do the Golden Nole Banquet that we organize that at the end of the year, and so all those things are on the radar and were trying to make sure that we get them done. Each team also organizes team community service projects so there constantly planning those and trying to get those squared away and those projects are pretty much what we focus on.” Finally, I wanted to get a description of what might be the main benefit from this SAAC organization. Dr. Lata replied, “Leadership development I think is the big one. It gives them an opportunity to interact with other sports.”
Overall, my goal in doing this interview was to introduce to everyone what SAAC does and the importance of having this organization for the student-athletes. Hopefully, whoever reads this article will now better understand exactly what the organization is and everything that the impact it has on student-athletes lives.