The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The Commission’s initial goal was to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. Since 1989, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has worked to ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities.

As a result of the Commission’s efforts, significant strides have been made to reconnect college sports with the educational mission of American colleges and universities. Among the Commission’s recommendations adopted by the NCAA are:

  • Stronger academic standards for athletes leading to improved graduation rates.
  • Standards that require teams to be on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason competition.
  • Presidential control and leadership over NCAA decisions and athletics conferences achieved through governance changes.
  • Multiyear scholarships for athletes.
  • Increased campus engagement and accountability through institutional self-assessment programs, such as the past NCAA certification process and the current NCAA Institutional Performance Program. 

However, much work remains to be done. In its 2010 report, the Commission called for strengthened accountability through three primary areas: 1) requiring greater financial transparency, including better measures to compare athletics spending to academic spending; 2) rewarding practices that make academic values a priority in athletics programs; 3) treating college athletes as students first and foremost—not as professionals. The report has been influential in shaping the debate about the treatment of college athletes; whether the financial incentives are appropriately aligned with educational values; and, trends in athletic and academic spending.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics is continuing its work to address these current challenges and to promote more transparency to ensure academic and financial integrity in college sports.