KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Though she is sitting out the basketball season as a transfer, Diamond DeShields was a game-changer for Tennessee and for student-athletes all over the country this weekend.
DeShields was selected as one of 15 student-athlete delegates at the NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C. It was a landmark moment for the NCAA and student-athletes, the first time they were given not only a voice, but full voting rights at the convention.
It also came at a very important time, as the NCAA considered groundbreaking rule changes on cost of attendance, four-year guaranteed scholarships and other proposed enhancements to the student-athlete experience. Rule changes that were brought about by the autonomy vote that gave the "Power Five" schools the ability to govern themselves on issues of student-athlete welfare.
"I understood the magnitude of being selected for that, being one of 15 out of hundreds, thousands student athletes that could have been selected," DeShields said. "To know that you were going to be a part of changing student-athletes' lives, it was good to think about things from a NCAA perspective."
Tennessee senior associate athletics director Mike Ward, one of the administrators that represented UT at the convention, was impressed with the way DeShields represented herself and her school.
"For Tennessee to have one of 15 student-athletes who were involved in helping write and enact the legislation is great for our institution," he said. "It shows our student-athletes here that we're going to position them to be meaningful players and have a meaningful voice in this process. Diamond is the first step in that process and I think she did a great job there and represented us really well."DeShields not only had a voice in the process, but she and the other student-athletes each had a vote in the legislation that was equal to that of the schools participating. Having a student-athlete involved in the process gave the opinions gathered among those on campus even more weight on the national level.
"Our student-athletes have a great voice on campus through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee," Ward said. "We took their opinion into that room, particularly when we talked about four-year scholarships. Our student-athletes are well-represented in the process with Diamond having her own vote and SAAC having a vote through our personnel, and we went in there and voted their opinion."That opinion in the four-year scholarship issue differed from what was ultimately decided at the convention. Tennessee student-athletes were opposed to the idea for competitive reasons and the vote of the UT representatives reflected that opinion. DeShields was one of the student-athletes that spoke at the podium on the issue, taking a stance against the proposal that was in line with UT's vote, but that surprised many in the room.
"People there from other schools said they were surprised by the fact that we disagreed with the multi-year scholarships," DeShields said of the reaction to her speech and those of other student-athletes that spoke against the proposal. "We didn't want to see it happen because we were just thinking about the extremes and the rare occasions in which it could have a negative impact and we didn't want to have to go through that. If you have an academic scholarship and don't get a certain GPA, you know what happens, and I think that the same thing applies to athletics. You work so hard to get here."
Standing up for what she believed in that setting was difficult, but knowing that she had the support of the UT staff in attendance gave her confidence. And after her comments, she found support from her fellow Southeastern Conference representatives as well.
"It was comforting knowing that I have that support because before I stood up there and said what I had to say I really didn't know how they would react," DeShields said. "When I sat back down, there were people that were saying that it was really well done, people from other schools in the SEC, that felt even better knowing that I not only had the support from my own school but other schools as well."
Ward said DeShields exemplified what being a student-athlete at Tennessee is all about."She showed great courage and resolve, and I think that is what we are trying to teach our student-athletes," Ward said. "You have a group of student-athletes that did not know each other before Thursday, and they have the same power as the SEC. That's pretty remarkable, and Diamond did a great job in that context."