In the midst of recent high-profile scandals and misconduct in the realm of intercollegiate athletics, the Board of Directors of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) has released its Statement on Governing Boards’ Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics, urging boards to apply the same consistency of review to athletics as they do to finances, educational quality, and strategic planning.
It’s often said that athletics is the front porch of any college or university, especially at the highest levels of college sports. While intercollegiate athletics can bring many benefits to students and institutions, the challenges associated with college sports continue to grow, including rising costs, student‐athlete academic performance, and health and safety risks, as well as some high‐profile athletics scandals and ethical violations. AGB has for many years been urging institutional leadership to recognize that fiduciary responsibilities must clearly include accountability for college sports. This recent statement is meant to assist boards in executing that responsibility in an appropriate way. As issues surrounding athletics become more complex and certainly more visible to the public, it is vital that they follow best practices and govern effectively.
The statement offers three principles for governing board accountability for intercollegiate athletics:
- While delegating administrative responsibility to the institution’s chief executive officer, the governing board is ultimately accountable for athletics policy in keeping with its fiduciary responsibilities.
- The governing board must accept accountability for upholding the integrity of the athletics program and ensuring it advances the institution’s educational mission.
- Governing boards must develop systematic approaches for upholding their responsibilities regarding athletics and apply themselves diligently to that work.
These principles provide a basic structure through which governing boards can, and should, ask the hard questions of the president/chancellor—questions pertaining to the role played by athletics in the campus culture, how expectations around ethical behavior are conveyed to athletics staff, and ways in which to address the challenge of board members overstepping their position in the area of athletics.
The public is watching, and failures in this area are adding to the erosion of trust in higher education. College sports is not an optional responsibility for board members. It’s part of the job.