Women’s Soccer: Q&A with Nandi Mehta

Nandi Mehta celebrates a goal with her teammates. The junior has an active role in student-athlete advocacy at Northwestern and at the conference and NCAA levels.

Daily file photo by Sean Su

Nandi Mehta celebrates a goal with her teammates. The junior has an active role in student-athlete advocacy at Northwestern and at the conference and NCAA levels.

Bobby Pillote, Sports Editor

Women’s Soccer

Nandi Mehta is best known for what she does off the field.

The junior is co-captain of the women’s soccer team and was a solid contributor for Northwestern on the pitch in 2014, starting 18 games and tallying a goal and two assists, but has made bigger waves during her time as co-president of the Student Athlete Advisory Council at NU and as a representative for the Big Ten in the NCAA’s Division I autonomy governance structure.

She received the Winter 2015 Campus Life Award for her achievements, and continues to balance her responsibilities as a student, athlete and activist. The Daily sat down with Mehta to discuss the role of SAAC, how she manages her time commitments and her vision for the future of college athletics.

The Daily Northwestern: What is SAAC and what does it do?

Nandi Mehta: Every campus has its own SAAC, then every conference has one SAAC, then each division in the NCAA has an SAAC. It’s a platform to promote communication between athletes and administrators on campus, or athletes all the way up to the conference or NCAA. It really is a place where athletes can voice concerns or discuss issues and current events that are going on. Anything that affects the student-athlete experience can be discussed through SAAC. It’s a place to have the conversation and then implement change.

The Daily: What are the responsibilities of being SAAC co-president?

Mehta: The biggest thing is to decide what direction you want SAAC to go in for that year. We design the meetings, we decide what we want to do in the meetings, we pick goals and we make sure we accomplish those goals. A lot of what I’ve wanted to do is really make it more utilized. It hasn’t really been utilized as it should have been.

The Daily: Is there an example of an issue that’s come up in SAAC that you have affected change on?

Mehta: One thing that we’ve talked a lot about is time demands. Lots of student athletes have voiced concerns about it and it’s a very sports-specific issue. … Another thing, this was at the Big Ten SAAC level, we got a bill passed to make complimentary admission for student athletes at football, men’s basketball and men’s ice hockey games so that it’s a permissive policy on the campus. At Northwestern, every student gets free admission to every sport. At other Big Ten schools it’s not at all like that. By passing that, each campus could decide if it wanted to give admission. … It was really good to promote a better sense of community within the athletic departments.

The Daily: What is your role at the NCAA level under its new governance structure?

Mehta: The structure was redesigned in August of 2014 I believe, and it granted the Big 5 conferences autonomy from the rest of the NCAA over certain issues. There are 65 schools in those conferences, and each school gets a vote on issues, and they also wanted 15 student athletes to be representatives, three from each conference. I’m one of the three from the Big Ten and I have a vote on issues and whatever proposals come up, which is huge.

The Daily: Given the time demands of being a student athlete and how much you do off the field, how do you make it work?

Mehta: My whole life I’ve had soccer and school going on, so I’ve learned really well how to balance things. … It makes me more efficient with my time, and each separate thing is a mental break from the other things. When I just have soccer going on, sometimes it’s overwhelming because there’s no escape from soccer. When I just have school, it’s a lot because I want soccer to get it out. When I have all these other little things going on, it’s nice because each one is a little bit different than the other. … It challenges me, it stretches me a little bit, but I like to think I’m able to put my full effort into all of it.

The Daily: Do you think there is a barrier for student athletes to be more involved in campus life?

Mehta: I don’t think so. I think you can be as involved or uninvolved as you choose to be. Personally, a lot of my involvement is via the athletic department, and that’s how I’ve gotten involved. … It’s hard because you come in and you’re very insulated to your team and a lot of us come in so early before the rest of campus that we’re established in this group, and it’s really difficult to branch out of it. You spend so much time with your team, you just live such a different life that it can be difficult sometimes.

The Daily: Is SAAC something that facilitates intermingling among athletes on different teams?

Mehta: Definitely. We have two representatives from each team on SAAC, so you get all the teams there. … You just get to see people’s faces, know people’s names, and it’s from that that I know a lot of people on teams that I may not know otherwise. The best thing is when you hear them talk about issues that are going on on their teams. Maybe their coaches, or gear, or these time demand things and you wouldn’t even know it otherwise. You feel automatically closer to them that you’re having these conversations.

The Daily: If there was one thing you could change at the NCAA level, what would it be?

Mehta: One thing that I’ve thought about a lot is recruiting. I think the cycle for recruiting is way too early, and the rules involved in recruiting are unfair on the recruit and the school. No one wants to be involved in it but you have no choice and it’s just a vicious cycle. … More than that, you make a verbal commitment to a school, but if the coaching staff changes that’s null and void. I would love it if there was something that could protect a recruit because it’s not fair on them to have that happen.

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