Report urges greater board oversight of intercollegiate athletics


A new report urges college and university boards of directors to increase oversight of their institutions’ athletic programs.

The report warns that with intercollegiate athletic programs operating more and more like businesses, their boards must ensure an appropriate balance between athletics and academics.

The dilemma for almost all colleges and universities is that their athletic programs tend to fail in one critical business practice — making a profit. And that usually requires money to be shifted away from possible use for academic programs.

The new report, which comes from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), is titled “Trust, Accountability and Integrity: Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics.” A full copy can be found at http://agb.org.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, formed in 1989 after many highly visible scandals in college sports, helped fund the research that led to this report. Several other research papers, also supported by Knight grants, were also presented last week at a commission meeting in Washington, D.C. All the reports can be found at http://www.knightcommission.org.

The Penn State scandal of the past year illustrates the need for greater oversight from institutional boards as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The report offers three major recommendations for greater board engagement:

— “The governing board is ultimately accountable for athletics policy and oversight and must fulfill this fiduciary responsibility.

— “The board must act decisively to uphold the integrity of the athletics program and its alignment with the academic mission of the institution.

— “The board must educate itself about its policy role and oversight of intercollegiate athletics.”

John T. Casteen, president emeritus of the University of Virginia and director of the AGB project, pointed out that chief executive officers administer their institutions’ athletic programs on a daily basis.

“But boards must engage actively and appropriately in the policy considerations surrounding the key issues, which can have a major impact on their institutions’ financial welfare and reputation,” he said.

That does not mean board members need to get involved in the management of athletic programs, but they need to be more than cheerleaders.

“Given the continued disproportionate growth of athletics relative to other purposes and programs, our concern is that if boards do not act to ensure an appropriate balance between athletics and academics in our higher education institutions, policy makers or others will do it for us,” the report concludes.

In 2009, the Association of Governing Boards adopted a “Statement on Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics,” something of a pre-Penn State advisory for increased board oversight. Nevertheless, a survey of institutional leaders at NCAA Division I colleges and universities conducted for the survey show that not much was done in response.

The major findings of the survey include:

— Only 19 percent reported that their athletic department is self-supporting and has no need for a subsidy from institutional resources. (That squares with other research I’ve reported previously. In our state, only the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville has a self-supporting athletic program among the four-year institutions.)

—About one-fourth of the boards have no policy on intercollegiate athletics.

—While 84 percent of the boards say they have sufficient data to monitor academic progress of athletes by team, only about one-third say they have sufficient information about the impact of athletics on student athletes’ academic progress.

—About one-third of the boards characterized their preparation to oversee compliance with NCAA rules as neutral, somewhat poor or poor.

—About 99 percent have programs or camps for minors, but only half have policies for protection of minors.

The survey also found a strong consensus that the NCAA should quicken enforcement proceedings, impose penalties in a timely manner, simplify rules, share media contract revenue more equitably and do more to control the corrupting influences of money in college sports.

Only the NCAA can do the latter. Dominated by the roughly 20 percent of universities that can show a profit with the athletic “businesses,” the NCAA does little to level the playing fields in spending for athletics. In fact, the “arms war” of intercollegiate athletics is escalating.

A 2010 Knight Commission report found that between 2005 and 2008 the rate of spending per student for academic programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision grew by 20.5 percent; during the same period the spending for athletes grew by 37.9 percent. And the analysis showed that the amount of spending per athlete ranged from four to 10 times the spending for educational purposes per student.

Coaches’ salaries are a good example of the escalation. Another of the Knight-sponsored reports noted that Bobby Bowden of Florida State University received the first $1 million coaching contract in 1995. But by 2009 the number of coaches with salaries of more than $1 million numbered 56. Top coaches often get salaries far above other employees of the university or even the state.

The report pointed out that this disparity is not new. As early as the 1920s some schools paid a full professor only about $2,000 while justifying salaries of about $9,000 for a head coach. In 1925, Columbia tried to hire Knute Rockne away from Notre Dame by offering him $25,000.

Since then the disparity has only continued to widen.

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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at royo@suddenlink.net.