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AGB Urges Governing Boards to Focus on Purpose, Risk of Intercollegiate Athletics: Statement Provides Principles to Guide Boards in Upholding Responsibilities

Sep 27, 2018

At a time when some of the highest-profile crises in higher education leadership are related to college sports, the Board of Directors of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) today 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.

The statement also calls on organizations with substantial roles in college athletics, such as NCAA, NAIA, and athletic conferences, to acknowledge that trustees have a responsibility to monitor athletics by including their voices in the respective governance structures of each of these organizations.

While recognizing the many benefits to students and institutions of intercollegiate athletics, the statement also addresses the numerous—and growing—challenges associated with college sports, including rising costs, student‐athlete academic performance, and health and safety risks, as well as some high‐profile athletics scandals and ethical violations. Such challenges are among the factors leading to the perception by many of an ever-widening gulf between athletic and academic cultures, and college and university trustees have an obligation to ensure athletics programs advance the educational mission.

“Governing boards must recognize that accountability for their athletic programs is no different than their responsibility for institutional finances, curriculum, or strategic planning. Given its legitimate role in institutional culture, athletics is integral to fulfilling an institution’s mission and educational purpose,” said AGB President Richard D. Legon. “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.”

David W. Miles, chair of AGB’s Board of Directors and a trustee of Drake University (IA), said, “Boards must find balance in their approach to oversight of athletics. Too often, this is an area in which trustees overreach—or worse, act as fans—and exert improper influence. But neither can their responsibility for real and appropriate review be delegated to any other body without running very real financial, mission, or reputational risks.”

The statement presents 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.

Among the questions the statement urges boards to consider:

  • How does the board monitor its members’ engagement related to athletics? Is there a process for addressing situations in which board members exceed their proper authority in the area of intercollegiate athletics?
  • What is the impact of intercollegiate athletics on campus climate? How does athletics affect admissions, social life, academic values, and the composition of the student body?
  • Does the chief executive officer convey to the athletics director expectations concerning compliance and ethical conduct? How effectively is the commitment to compliance with institutional, conference, and NCAA rules and regulations communicated to coaches, administrators, students, faculty, boosters, and alumni?

The AGB Board of Directors’ Statement on Governing Boards’ Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics is the latest guidance offered by the organization to its members in the area of intercollegiate athletics and updates the previous statement, issued in 2009. The AGB Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the statement at its meeting in August—the third such statement on this topic approved by the board in the last 11 years.

The statement was prepared with input from AGB’s Athletic Statement Advisory Group.

John Casteen, president emeritus, University of Virginia (Advisory Group Chair)
Val Ackerman, commissioner, Big East Conference
Brit Kirwan, chancellor emeritus, University System of Maryland; former chair, Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
Rick Legon, president, AGB; member, Spelman College Board of Trustees
Ross Mugler, member, Old Dominion University Board of Visitors (member, AGB Board of Directors)
Rich Novak, senior fellow, AGB
Kim Schatzel, president, Towson University
Michael Schill, president, University of Oregon
Beverly Seay, member, University of Central Florida Board of Trustees (vice chair, AGB Board of Directors)
Verne Sedlacek, member, Valparaiso University Board of Directors (former member, AGB Board of Directors)
John Walda, member, Stetson University Board of Trustees; former president, National Association of College and University Business Officers; former chair, Carroll College Board of Trustees; former chair, Indiana University Board of Trustees

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