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October 30, 2006 - Knight Commission responds to NCAA task force report

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics commends the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the 50 current and former presidents and higher education leaders who served on the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics. The report published today by the task force builds on the principles emphasized by the Knight Commission in its 1991 and 2001 reports—presidential control and reconnecting athletics with the university mission. Link here to access the NCAA report in PDF.

“This is a major step forward for presidential leadership in intercollegiate athletics,” said Clifton R. Wharton Jr., co-chairman of the Commission and president emeritus of Michigan State University. “We applaud this distinguished group and hope that its work will provide the impetus for campus-based reforms throughout the country.”

The task force should be commended particularly for its ground-breaking work to collect more accurate financial data and provide better transparency. The information will serve presidents well in their decision-making and also should better inform trustees, faculty, athletics administrators and the public about the true costs of college sports.”

Wharton added, “Collective action ultimately will be required in a number of significant areas highlighted in this report in order to achieve the desired goal of properly integrating athletics into the academic enterprise.”

R. Gerald Turner, the other co-chairman of the Commission and the president of Southern Methodist University, served on the task force and chaired one of its subcommittees. Turner noted that “the report is a good diagnostic tool for identifying the significant issues facing Division I athletics. It will require a concerted, cohesive effort by member institutions to implement the proposed solutions.”

The task force addressed a broad range of issues affecting many aspects of intercollegiate athletics at Division I institutions, including fiscal responsibility; presidential leadership; the integration of athletics and universities; and athlete well-being. The Knight Commission discussed the report in detail at its Oct. 16 meeting.

The attachment to this news release summarizes the areas the Knight Commission believes deserve further discussion or clarification. Among the most significant issues are the following:

• The Commission did not endorse the proposal to eliminate the clause in the Division I philosophy statement that encourages athletics programs to be self-sustaining. It is widely recognized that the vast majority of Division I institutions are not and never have been self-sustaining, but members of the Commission expressed concern that eliminating this statement would create a greater incentive to transfer academic funds to support athletics budgets, which are already growing two to three times faster on average than university budgets. Instead, the Commission recommends that the NCAA Division I Board of Directors develop a philosophy statement that would encourage the growth rate for athletics department budgets to be in line with the growth rate of the overall university budget. The Commission believes that this approach reflects the task force’s intent that athletics departments be fully integrated into the institutions that house them.

• The Commission also did not fully support the task force’s recommendation to establish a maximum number of “special admissions” openings for athletes, either for all sports programs or for individual teams. The Commission agrees with the idea that admissions procedures for athletes ought to be consistent with those for the rest of the student body, but strict caps could be problematic on a number of levels. As such, the Commission recommends that academic and admissions officials alone have the final authority on admissions decisions for athletes.

• Additionally, the Commission noted the absence of significant issues from the recommendations as well as from the list of future agenda items slated for the NCAA membership to consider. Among those issues are: compliance with Title IX; whether recruiting practices are consonant with athlete well-being; and the budgetary pressures causing many Division I institutions to drop sports and eliminate opportunities for wider participation. The Commission believes that these issues are critical to the well-being of athletes and the athletics enterprise.

More broadly, the Commission called for the NCAA and colleges to consider the following overarching principle for all areas of operation: Intercollegiate athletics programs should be held to the same standards, norms, requirements and lines of reporting as all other aspects of the academic enterprise. This includes budgeting, recruiting, admissions, academic advising, and expectations for athletes’ behavior. When evaluating current structures as well as individual issues that may arise, the primary consideration ought to be how to ensure alignment with institutional procedures and norms.

The Commission will address some of these issues in its future meetings. The Commission plans to meet again in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 22, 2007.
In addition to Gerald Turner, three other Commission members served on the NCAA presidential task force: Michael F. Adams, President, University of Georgia; Carol Cartwright, President Emeritus, Kent State University; and Peter Likins, President Emeritus, University of Arizona. Dr. Likins served as the task force’s chairman.

Response of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to the Report of the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission offers the following commentary and suggestions to stimulate useful discussions of the significant issues and recommendations presented in the task force report. The Knight Commission commends the task force for its extraordinary work in highlighting the areas in need of presidential leadership and increased institutional accountability. The Knight Commission endorses the report and its recommendations except where specifically noted.

Fiscal responsibility

• The Commission does not fully support the recommendation to eliminate the clause in the Division I philosophy statement that encourages athletics to be self-sustaining. It is widely recognized that the vast majority of Division I institutions are not and never have been self-sustaining, but members of the Commission expressed concern that eliminating this statement would create a greater incentive to transfer academic funds to support athletics budgets, which are growing two to three times faster on average than university budgets.

Instead, the Commission recommends that the NCAA Board of Directors establish a philosophy statement that would encourage the growth rate for athletics department budgets to be in line with the growth rate of overall university budgets. The Commission believes that this approach reflects the task force’s intent that athletics departments be fully integrated into the institutions that house them.

• The Commission fully supports the mechanisms being established for better financial reporting and commends the task force for its attempt to achieve better data and more transparency. The Commission believes additional clarification is needed to indicate how the annual reporting requirement using the new definitions will be enforced.

• The Commission encourages a more thorough examination of this improved financial data to analyze the economic structures that are causing
athletics budgets, on average, to grow at a rate two to three times that of university budgets.
Integration of athletics into the university mission

• The report recommends a cap on the number of athletes admitted under special or nonstandard procedures. The Commission believes this could be problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the responsibility and authority of institutions to admit students who would benefit from academic opportunities and offer diversity to the student body. As such, the Commission recommends that academic and admissions officials have final authority alone on all admissions decisions.

• The Commission fully supports the recommendations the task force made to include faculty “as an essential checkpoint in athletics policy and oversight” of athletes’ academic success. Over the course of the next year, the Commission plans to focus more attention on the best practices of faculty engagement in academic policy and oversight with athletes. The Commission also will host a Faculty Summit on Intercollegiate Athletics next year.

• Universities need to clarify the reporting roles and responsibilities for academic advising. As the task force recommends, academic advisors should be under the authority of the provost or chief academic officer. If advisors report both to an academic authority and to the athletics department, the academic authority should take precedence over athletics in all circumstances.

• A commitment to diversity must be stated and practiced by university presidents, who must enforce common academic practices (e.g., search committees involving people beyond athletics, development of internal prospects) on hiring procedures in athletics.

Student-Athlete Well-Being

• The report recommends that the Division I governance structure consider whether athletes should be granted five seasons of eligibility and scholarships to cover five years of college, replacing the current system of renewable one-year scholarships and four years of eligibility. The Knight Commission recommends that any further consideration of these measures be considered as an integrated set of proposals that must also include consideration on the scholarship limits and types of scholarships awarded under NCAA rules (i.e., equivalency versus head-count calculations).

Although the Knight Commission previously has opposed allowing five years of eligibility, it is open to reconsidering this issue provided the proposal includes a more complete package of these interconnected issues, including a limitation that all participation must occur within the first five years of enrollment, thereby eliminating all “redshirt” opportunities and waivers for additional years of competition in case of injury or other circumstances. The guiding principle should be to consider proposals that will provide each recruited athlete the best possible opportunity for academic success while also providing institutions more flexible funding options in order to maintain or increase participation opportunities.

• The Commission notes the absence of attention to whether recruiting practices are consonant with athlete well-being and encourages the NCAA to consider fully the principle that prospects be required to have interactions with academics and admissions officials, such as admissions interviews, prior to receiving scholarship offers.

• The Commission expresses concern that the growing number of games during the season and practice and competition activities in the off-season appear to be creating more obstacles, not fewer, to athletes being integrated into campus life. The Commission endorses the proposed review of these issues.

Relationships with internal and external constituencies

• The Commission endorses all of the task force’s recommendations in this area. Further, the Commission recommends that boards receive an annual report on athletics programs, including graduation-rate data as well rates of admissions exceptions for athletics compared to other admissions exceptions. An annual review of this aggregate data will help to ensure that trustees understand the academic practices of the athletics department with regard to admissions and graduation success.

The Commission notes the absence of attention to compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the separate issue of the disturbing trend of sports being dropped at the Division I level as a result of budget pressures and reallocations.

The Commission believes that both these overarching issues impact the landscape of Division I college athletics and therefore need to be addressed. The Commission notes that the NCAA Division I philosophy statement includes a commitment to offer “extensive opportunities” for varsity athletics participation for both men and women.