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October 2, 2009 - NCAA enhances use of data in academic and financial reform

The New York Times recently published an article profiling the NCAA's increasing openness toward collecting and sharing data from its member institutions in efforts toward academic and financial reform of intercollegiate athletics.  The article credits the NCAA's late president, Myles, Brand, who pushed for better decision-making based on facts and enhanced efforts at data collection.  Two of the more recent accomplishments include: 1) the Academic Progress Rate, which awards points to Division I college athletic teams when athletes remained eligible and advanced academically and penalized teams that fell below standards; and, 2) convincing university presidents to submit their financial data to a central database to help assess their athletic programs, including comparing certain aspects of their athletically-related financial well-being to similar institutions in a variety of settings.

While the size of NCAA's research department doubled during Brand's tenure, many scholars criticized the institution for being reluctant to share the voluminous data it collected.  In an effort to improve transparency and enhance the understanding of the academic and financial issues, the NCAA will release four sets of data — including detailed academic statistics and graduation rates — to a national clearinghouse at the University of Michigan.

“How do we get out of this endless spiral of spending more and more money on intercollegiate athletics?” said William E. Kirwan, a co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which has accused the N.C.A.A. of overly commercializing college sports. He is also the chancellor of Maryland’s university system. “The analysis there is obviously going to require the collection of data.”

The financial database currently is not available to the public, and individual institutions are not identified. The NCAA has stated members were unlikely to agree to release the data because financial information was so sensitive.  Kirwan disagreed. “I think the same arguments were made when we first started collecting academic data,” he said. “I think once you have data, my experience generally has been that the demands for access to the data will certainly increase.”