Pickard, who has been promoted to full professor in the School of Social Work ahead of the 2022-23 academic year, has been trying to study up this summer to prepare for the work that will begin in earnest next month.
“I’ve been trying to spend time learning, reading documents, trying to figure out what my part in this is, how the NCAA works, what the rules are, what regulations are, what the expectations are,” Pickard said. “I’ve been putting in the time, even though the actual job duties probably will not be taking the escalator up until August. But it is a year-round position.”
And one mandated by the NCAA. The Faculty Athletics Representative is to be a member of the faculty and is designated to serve as a liaison between the institution and the athletics department. It is also representative of the institution in conference and NCAA matters.
“The FAR bridges the gap between athletics and the faculty and the upper administration,” Director of Athletics Lori Flanagan said. “Basically, the position is to provide a general oversight to ensure that the academic integrity is upheld by the athletics department.”
Pickard will take an active role alongside Jessica Chandler, the assistant director of athletics for compliance and senior women’s administrator, and Lindsay Pickering, the assistant director of athletics for academics, in helping certify the eligibility of student-athletes ahead of the start of practice and competition.
That process will commence in a matter of weeks as the athletic department – which is home to 270 student-athletes in 19 sports – welcomes more than 80 new student-athletes to campus this fall. Athletic seasons get underway as early as Aug. 25, when the men’s and women’s soccer teams and volleyball team all have their regular-season debuts.
“There are segments in our sports seasons that he needs to be more involved in than others,” Flanagan said. “When we start signing off on eligibility and making sure everybody’s eligible and we can start playing, it’s a pretty heavy time. Going to the national convention in January is another pretty heavy time.”
Pickard is at a point in his career where he felt he could give that time. That’s part of what led him to seek the position when Lynn Staley, a teaching professor in the Department of English, ended a two-year run in the role.
“This seemed to me to be a new and exciting challenge to take on,” said Pickard, who went through an interview process with Chancellor Kristin Sobolik and Flanagan before being chosen for the role.
Pickard has gained an affinity for UMSL’s student-athletes from having them in his classes throughout his tenure.
“I love our student-athletes,” Pickard said. “They are definitely some of the hardest-working people on campus. They’re just like our other students in that they have jobs, they have families, they have people they’re caring for, they have relationships that they’re trying to attend to – all while going to school. And then you layer all the travel time and all the training time on top of it. It’s really a big deal.”
Pickard is also a sports enthusiast. He was a high school athlete and went on to play junior college soccer. Over the years, he’s been involved in coaching youth soccer and high school tennis, and he continues to play tennis and golf recreationally.
He started attending UMSL athletic events when he was pursuing a teaching certificate at UMSL in 1990. He resumed doing so when he joined the faculty in the School of Social Work in 2004 and was fond of organizing spring afternoon trips with his colleagues to the UMSL baseball field to watch games when their offices were in nearby Bellerive Hall.
“Going to the games is fun,” Pickard said. “I think everybody should do it. I think we should support our athletes. They do a lot to support the university. It’s just something that I enjoy.”
Staley too was a familiar face at athletic events when she was recruited to take over the role from longtime FAR Matt Taylor, an associate professor of psychological sciences now serving as associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Staley’s tenure coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and was anything but normal.
“There’s a pretty steep learning curve, and there are a lot of different committees and layers to the structure of athletics on the Division II collegiate level,” Staley said. “That’s a lot easier to grasp when you can meet with people in person and get to know them, but we were doing a lot of Zoom meetings.
“I also came on board right as a lot of the protests were starting after George Floyd’s murder, and athletics was really wanting to deal very honestly with some of those very heavy issues that were going to be confronting our student-athletes.”
Staley still enjoyed the experience, particularly the opportunities she had to congratulate student-athletes after big victories or when they earned recognition from the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Pickard is looking forward to those sorts of interactions, as well. He might have opportunities to act as a mediator should issues arise between faculty members and student-athletes, and he is hoping his background as a licensed clinical social worker can also help him provide support for student-athletes when they’re working through challenges.
As fall semester approaches, Pickard will start by getting better acquainted with members of the athletics department, including student-athletes and coaches and learning more about the department’s operations.
“I’ve got a lot to learn and hopefully I’ve got the time to learn it,” Pickard said. “I don’t want to make any mistakes. But I will say the athletics department does a great job with compliance. I give most of the credit to Lori but also Jessica and Lindsay. They run a very tight ship over there, and as far as I know, they’re going to help make my job easy.”