When University of Virginia commerce professor Carrie Heilman, a former collegiate student-athlete, took on the role of faculty athletics representative five years ago, she had to learn a new game.
Sports administration is very different.
“The learning curve was very steep,” Heilman said recently. “Over the last few years, there have been many changes in college athletics that have further contributed to the complexity of the role.”
At the same time, Heilman, the William Stamps Farish Associate Professor of Commerce, has continued teaching a graduate brand-management course in the McIntire School of Commerce for almost 20 years. She also has guided the yearlong, undergraduate “Promotions” classes of students who compete annually in the National Student Advertising Competition for 10 years. Since 2016, her teams have brought home three national titles.
Heilman’s dedication to her school and the athletics department was a reason UVA’s Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center recently selected her as this year’s Elizabeth Zintl Leadership Award honoree. Heilman will receive the annual award and a $1,000 prize this fall while the Women’s Center also celebrates 25 years of honoring women who have made significant contributions in a wide range of areas of the University.
“The extent of Professor Heilman’s service is inspiring,” Women’s Center Director Abby Palko said. “Her commitment to the well-being of students is evident in all of the ways she contributes to the life of the University.”
What might not be as evident is exactly what Heilman does for athletics.
“Two things are true: Most people don’t know what the faculty athletics representative does, and that every NCAA school has one,” said Heilman, who then explained some of the key parts and issues of this job.
Only one person from each of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s 1,100 colleges and universities serves as the faculty athletics representative for their school, making it a unique role at each institution.
One purpose of the position is to represent their schools as a member outside of athletics in its conference – in UVA’s case, the Atlantic Coast Conference – as well as to the NCAA. But parts of the job are different at each institution, depending on what the school expects and what issues the representative gets involved in, she added. For example, Heilman serves on the ACC Women’s Basketball Committee and she also attends UVA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meetings.
At UVA, she is a liaison between the academic enterprise – including faculty, staff and administrators – and the athletics department. Her duties include, among other things, participating in certifying the eligibility of more than 700 UVA student-athletes, and conducting student-athlete exit interviews.
There are two new and evolving issues that have added to Heilman’s duties: the ability for University athletes to earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses, and legislation that makes it easier for student-athletes to transfer to other schools.
“Research suggests that when students transfer, their academic progress often slows down, so the faculty athletics representative is often the one in the room raising these issues and concerns,” she said. “Is it in the best interest for student-athletes if they change schools several times? How does it affect the ‘student’ in ‘student-athlete’ and their overall well-being?”
New rules governing name, image and likeness – often abbreviated as “NIL” – outlining how student-athletes can use their personal brands and profit from it, are fostering a transformation in college sports. Previously, student-athletes couldn’t earn money from such pursuits. Now, some star student-athletes are reportedly earning six-figure sums for their endorsements, though the vast majority make significantly less.
Allowing student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness gives student-athletes the same benefits and freedoms regular students have – and that’s a positive, Heilman said. Under the old rules for instance, a baseball player wanting to give lessons couldn’t use his athletic status to promote that. Now, he can.
“At the same time, we want to make sure that these changes don’t come at the expense of the long-term welfare of student-athletes,” she said. “Is this in their best interest, long term, and does it have the potential to distract them from their ultimate goal of earning a college degree?”
When the NCAA began allowing student-athletes to make money, “Schools across the country were scrambling to help student-athletes prepare for it,” Heilman said. UVA Director of Athletics Carla Williams and McIntire School of Commerce Dean Nicole Thorne Jenkins turned to Heilman for help. This semester, the Commerce School launched a set of online short-courses that offer all students across Grounds, including student-athletes, relevant brand, marketing and business knowledge.
“What started as an idea that could address the NIL challenges in athletics has evolved into an educational offering that will benefit all students at UVA,” Heilman said. “It’s a great example of how collaboration across departments within the University can produce innovative ideas and courses.
“Something’s always going on,” Heilman said. “There’s no typical week.”