How the Knight Commission Would Recast College Sports

Article excerpt

The Knight Commission has long been an advocate for greater academic rigor in big-time college sports. Thursday it proposed new standards to try to combat the 'arms race' of athletic spending.

College sports is big business. But are Division I schools' spending priorities so out of whack as to threaten the very integrity of their educational mission?

That's the premise of the latest report by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. It calls for reforms designed to rein in the "arms race" of athletics spending and to treat college athletes as students rather than professionals.

The report notes that median spending per athlete grew by 38 percent between 2005 and 2008 at the big-sport schools of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Football Bowl Subdivision, previously known as Division I-A. At the same schools, academic spending per student grew 20 percent. The schools spend about $84,000 per athlete, versus $13,000 per student for academics.

"The NCAA ... frequently speaks about the importance of academics as an integral part of intercollegiate athletics.... We're just saying, let's live by that principle.... Let's make certain that a significant fraction of [sports] revenue is dedicated to rewarding high academic performance," said William Kirwan, co-chairman of the commission and chancellor of the University System of Maryland, during a press conference Thursday.

Athletes' academic success has improved in recent years after previous Knight Commission recommendations took hold, such as publicizing graduation rates and tightening eligibility rules. Now, the 22-member commission says, it's time to raise standards again and change the financial-incentive structure.

Some of the recommendations:

Require public reports on individual schools' athletics spending and revenue, including comparisons of the growth of athletic and academic spending. Especially given the pressures of the recession, raising public awareness could help university presidents make otherwise unpopular decisions to pull back on athletic spending.

Make eligibility for postseason play, such as basketball's March Madness tournament, dependent on teams being on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their athletes. Teams are already measured through an Academic Progress Rate (APR) score, and low scores over several years trigger a series of sanctions. But this proposal would trigger a postseason ban more quickly. …