By JOSHUA STALEY
On Oct. 16, Dr. Mary Beth Mathews, professor of religion in the Department of Classics, Philosophy and Religion, was appointed UMW’s new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) faculty athletic representative by UMW president Troy Paino.
“I would first like to state that I am happy to have Dr. Mathews in this position,” said UMW men’s basketball head coach, Marcus Kahn.
“It is a very important position for our department and we need someone who understands the rigors of being a student-athlete and is willing to help them across campus. It is important, like with anything on campus, that our student-athletes have a support network with their teams, but also with their professors, advisers and other students across campus. Since getting to know Dr. Mathews and being involved in discussions on this very subject, I am happy that she is our faculty athletics rep.”
After being asked by the provost last fall to serve on an athletics diversity and inclusion committee, Mathews was exposed to issues that the athletic department faces in terms of recruiting a diverse athletic team and how athletics fit into the university at large. This experience, along with other previous experiences, led her to apply and ultimately interview for the NCAA position.
“I think in some ways here at Mary Washington, athletics is a side note. It doesn’t have to be the main part of Mary Washington but building student interest in athletics while also making sure faculty understand that our student-athletes are hard workers is important. They don’t think they are going on to play professional sports,” said Mathews.
Mathews’ new position, faculty athletic representative, is a mandated position by the NCAA. In this position Mathews will serve as a bridge between the faculty and athletic programs and facilitate discussions when needed.
UMW’s interim director of athletics, Patrick Catullo, voiced excitement about Mathews’ new position.
“UMW Athletics is excited to welcome Dr. Mary Beth Mathews as our faculty athletic representative,” said Catullo. “The FAR is a very important position in athletics that will support and help to ensure the academic integrity of the athletics program, serve as a liaison between the athletics program and academic affairs and the faculty, and serve as an independent advocate for student-athlete well-being.”
Rather than working directly to oversee a student’s academic success, Mathews makes sure that faculty members are communicating with coaches and trainers and tries to make sure student-athletes have a way of communicating with the faculty.
“Sometimes athletes will have to travel for a particular athletic competition and one of the things I can do is help be the person who helps get in touch with their faculty members,” said Mathews.
According to National Collegiate Athletic Association website, the NCAA is a non-profit organization which regulates athletes of the 1,257 North American institutions, conferences and affiliated sports organizations. Using a tiered system, the NCAA has different levels, Division I, Division II and Division III, for college sports; organizing institutions into these categories depending on population and size of each particular school. UMW is Division III which means it is unable to offer athletic scholarships to its students.
“We don’t give scholarships to our athletes, they’re considered student-athletes first and foremost,” said Mathews.
In her new position, Mathews is also tasked with making sure no violations occur and she reports directly to President Paino if any problems arise on either the faculty or the athletics side of the university. However, she does not take part in any disciplinary action that may result due to these violations.
In addition to these duties, Mathews also attends various meetings throughout the year and works directly with the provost, the vice president of student affairs and the athletic director.
“As a gifted professor with a record of working with athletics and student-athletes, Dr. Mathews will be a great liaison between the department and the rest of the university,” said vice president of student affairs, Dr. Juliette Landphair.
“The FAR has several significant responsibilities, but in my mind one of the most important FAR roles is to work with faculty in shaping the learning outcomes for student-athletes and in understanding the key roles that Athletics plays at Mary Wash in terms of recruitment, retention and school affinity and identity. At every college and university, misunderstandings arise about athletics, academics and students, and it is so encouraging to have such a strong representative as Dr. Mathews working to grapple with those challenges and strengthening Athletics and UMW as a result.”
Mathews’ experience with sports began as a child when she rode horses and played soccer. Her exposure to sports continued through her daughter, who played varsity soccer and varsity tennis.
“I was never that athletic,” said Mathews. “I think I was probably a better horseback rider than I was a soccer player. I have all sorts of experience from both driving many, many miles to watch her [daughter] play but also the difficulties student-athletes can sometimes face when making those two worlds work together. They’re students first but athletics is a key part of how they interact with the university, so balancing the two is delicate.”
Mathews’ interest in sports goes beyond her new position. She is also a big fan of college basketball and prefers it to “any other kind of basketball,” and she is a big hockey fan.
“The Caps are my team,” she said.
Going forward, Mathews wants to help integrate athletics into the larger picture of the university.
“I hope that people who have concerns or questions would contact me,” said Mathews. “I’m happy to chat, my door is open always open.”