Knight Commission Proposes Penalties for Colleges Whose Athletes Fail Academically; Pursues Other Major Reforms of College Sports 10 Years After Issuing Landmark Report

Washington, D.C. – The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics today recommended that teams with graduation rates of less than 50 percent be barred from conference championships or postseason play. The sweeping recommendations, which include prohibiting corporate logos on athlete uniforms, also call for the establishment of a Coalition of Presidents representing academic as well as athletic associations to pursue needed reforms.

After a series of hearings in 2000-2001, the panel found that the problems of college sports have worsened since 1991 when it issued a landmark report on student athletics that recommended placing control of athletics in the hands of college presidents. The Commission noted that even with presidential control and rule changes, the NCAA “cannot independently do what needs to be done. Its dual mission of keeping sports clean while generating millions of dollars in broadcasting revenue for member institutions creates a near-irreconcilable conflict.”

The key Knight Commission recommendations to address corruption in college sports today are:

  • Barring teams that do not graduate at least 50 percent of their players from conference championships or post-season play;
  • Reallocating TV revenue from the Men’s NCAA Div. I Basketball Tournament;
  • Prohibiting athletes from wearing uniforms with corporate logos;
  • Encouraging the NBA and NFL to develop minor leagues;
  • Banning legal gambling on collegiate athletics;
  • Establishing a Coalition of Presidents with the American Council on Education to pursue a reform agenda;
  • Creating an independent watchdog body with the support of foundations and the Association of Governing Boards to monitor big-time college sports programs.

The Knight Commission acknowledged that while the NCAA and some individual schools have made progress, they have not been effective overall. The panel also believes that “only a multilateral effort among college presidents can reduce out-of-control spending on college sports and academic transgressions” and that “if intercollegiate athletics cannot live honorably within the American college and university system, then institutions should get out of the business of big-time sports.”

The report states:

While the NCAA and individual schools have made considerable progress… the problems of big-time college sports have grown rather than diminished. The most glaring problems — academic transgressions, a financial arms race, and commercialization — are all evidence of the widening chasm between higher education’s ideals and big-time college sports.

Given the enormous scope of this reform effort, the Commission recognizes that change will have to come in a series of steps over time. The work must be accomplished by a concerted grassroots effort by the broader academic community, in concert with trustees, administrators, and faculty. Nothing less than a collective effort from the higher education community can accomplish the reintegration of college sports into the moral and institutional culture of the university.

During a series of meetings held ten years after issuing a landmark 1991 report that proposed putting control of athletic programs into the hands of college and university presidents, the 27-member Knight Commission took aim at today’s troubling issues. The panel heard from university presidents, faculty, conference commissioners, athletic directors, coaches, athletes, authors, NCAA and professional sports officials, TV executives, a sports apparel representative, a gambling lobbyist, a U.S. Senator, and other experts.

The Knight Commission’s original deliberations led to development of a “one-plus-three” model in which the college president (the “one”) is responsible for three key aspects of athletic programs: academic integrity, financial integrity, and independent certification. Most of the Commission’s recommendations were eventually adopted by the NCAA.

During its 2000-2001 deliberations, the Knight Commission found that college sports and higher education need a new “one-plus-three” model for these new times, with the “one” being a Coalition of Presidents that would enact an agenda of academic reform, de-escalation of the athletics arms race, and de-emphasis of the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics.

The Knight Commission is co-chaired by William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, and the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. The panel includes university presidents, as well as business and sports leaders.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 US communities.