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Presidents and Trustees Have a Rare Opportunity to Remake College Sports for the Better

Presidents and Trustees Have a Rare Opportunity to Remake College Sports for the Better

The recent scandal that shook college basketball, while deeply troubling, gives university presidents and institutional boards a unique leadership opportunity to restore public confidence in the oversight and stewardship of college sports.

Earlier this month, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics made several recommendations aimed at prodding presidents and trustees to seize this chance.

The commission’s core recommendation was that the NCAA shift its model from a membership association—one with inevitable conflicts of interest—to more of a leadership organization capable of propelling real change. To support that transformation, the commission recommended both that the NCAA Board of Governors and the powerful Division I Board of Directors should ultimately have a majority of independent directors, as is often the case with corporate and non-profit board governance.

This is a time for higher education to speak up to enact fundamental change. All presidents and trustees have a stake in this, not just those presidents in the NCAA governance structure. And trustees should understand these issues and proposals — and provide their support so their presidents can take bold action required to accomplish badly-needed reforms.

The commission also called for more integrity and financial transparency in the arrangements between schools and shoe, equipment, and apparel companies. We recommended that the NCAA bar schools from authorizing employees, including coaches, from having contracts with companies that are contingent on players wearing or using the companies’ equipment or products. Any such contracts should be made only with a university.

To restore integrity, all universities—public and private—must be willing to disclose how much money they receive from shoe, equipment, and apparel companies, and how the money is used, especially in the revenue sports of men’s basketball and FBS football. (For more detail on the Knight Commission’s recommendations on financial disclosure requirements for athletically-related outside income, see link here).

Trustees have an important role to play here, too—we also recommend that presidents be required to provide annual reports on these contracts and disclosures to trustees.

Our call to reform comes on the heels of a report released by the Commission on College Basketball, led by Condoleezza Rice.

The Rice Commission was appointed last fall after an FBI investigation into corruption and bribery in Division 1 college basketball led to the arrest of 10 people, including four coaches. The college basketball scandal raised serious questions about the NCAA’s capacity to oversee the major revenue sports and fueled public doubts about the organization’s ability to be an effective steward for all of college sports. In addition to Division I, the NCAA currently oversees more than 750 Division II and III schools.

The Knight Commission endorsed a number of important reforms outlined in the Rice Commission report but also pressed the NCAA to go further. The Rice Commission supported one of our longtime goals—adding independent members to the NCAA Board of Governors. That’s a good first step, but we would also like to see at least six independent members added to the powerful Division I Board of Directors—with independent members ultimately comprising majorities of both boards.

Too often, NCAA governing boards today look out for what’s best for the conferences and institutions they represent, rather than independently and objectively assessing what’s best for intercollegiate athletics and student-athletes.

Finally, the Knight Commission recommended that the NCAA develop minimal professional standards for coaches, so that they are prepared not just for Xs and Os, but for their underlying responsibilities as educators and leaders in student-athletes’ development.

In a USA Today op-ed, Rice wrote that she and her fellow commissioners welcomed our “recommendations and are pleased that we share agreement on the strategic direction."

Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University, and Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education, are co-chairs of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

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