First Mexican Member of the NCAA?

Cetys University, a private institution not far from the U.S. border, may be the first Mexican institution to join the association after a new rule was approved Saturday.

January 22, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS -- Cetys University could be the first Mexican college to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a move now possible under a new rule allowing Mexican institutions to apply for membership in Division II.

Centro de Enseñanza Técnica y Superior University, a private institution based primarily in Mexicali and Tijuana, has long angled to join the NCAA, crossing the border for matches with American institutions at least once a year.

Cetys is unusual in that it is one of few Mexican colleges and universities to be accredited by an American agency, a requirement of NCAA membership. Its campuses are within an hour or so driving distance of the border, and students often travel back and forth for athletic and academic purposes.

At the NCAA's annual convention Saturday, delegates from Division II institutions voted 253 to 45, with seven abstentions, to allow Mexican colleges to petition to join the division. The proposal takes effect immediately, meaning Cetys, and any other institution, could apply for a three-year provisional membership by a Feb. 1 deadline.

But Fernando León-García, president of Cetys, said in an interview that the university intends to wait a year to make sure it meets the requirements to join the NCAA. The institution must ensure that its sports program has an equitable gender balance. This is particularly true because the university fields a football team, a sport that has more male athletes than most, and could require Cetys to field six women's teams and four men's teams as a result.

The university currently offers men’s and women’s basketball, women’s and men’s volleyball, baseball, softball, men’s soccer, cheerleading and football, and it's in the process of developing track and field for men.

Cetys also needs to ensure that it has certain staffers in place, including designating one woman in a senior leadership position.

It appears though, that Cetys is well positioned to glide through the application process. It has garnered particular support from members of the California Collegiate Athletic Association, its prospective conference, and gained a champion in the president of San Francisco State University, Leslie E. Wong, who helped lobby for it to become an NCAA member.

“We’ve done our homework with expert help as well as with the support of the universities with whom we have academic collaboration,” León-García said. “This did not arise out of athletics talking to athletics; it arose out of university presidents talking to each other.”

León-García was unconcerned with the unique complications that come with competing with American colleges. While border security has been politicized, particularly during the election cycle, León-García said Cetys athletes are accustomed to allowing enough time to cross into the United States and that the university will need to confirm all of them have the necessary documents.

He pointed out that some American athletes might have more difficulties going back into the United States in some cases. American athletes who are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, for instance, can’t enter Mexico because they wouldn’t allowed back. In that case, Cetys’ competitors would need to figure out if they should remain behind or if Cetys could use another college’s facilities across the border, León-García said.

“The most important thing, of course, is we have here an additional initiative where universities are coming together to collaborate on both sides of the border,” he said.

The NCAA last year turned permanent a decade-long pilot program that allowed any division to invite Mexican or Canadian institutions to join. The association’s first international member was Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia -- also in Division II. It joined in 2012.

“Higher education now more than ever before must lead the way in helping build inclusive communities and foster diverse learning communities and learning opportunities,” said Gayle E. Hutchinson, president of California State University at Chico, during a meeting of Division II delegates. “Many of our schools already have academic programs that cross cultural and country boundaries. Adopting this legislation adds similar opportunity for our intercollegiate athletics programs.”

Cetys enrolls a little more than 3,000 students, and its athletics budget was about $1 million last year, which is relatively low compared to other Division II institutions.

Back in 2013, Division II delegates had denied membership to Mexican institutions in a 141 to 138 vote.

Canadian institutions were given the opportunity to apply for membership in 2008.

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Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

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