Knight Commission Announces Summit On the Collegiate Athlete Experience

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics announced plans to host a Summit on the Collegiate Athlete Experience in January 2006 at George Washington University. The announcement was one of the highlights of a daylong Knight Commission meeting at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.

Academic issues, such as graduation rates, the NCAA’s certification system, and a proposed plan to reward colleges when teams do well academically, dominated the Commission’s agenda. The upcoming summit, however, represents a new direction for the Knight Commission: viewing reform through the eyes of students and athletes.

“The Knight Commission’s primary goal has been to reinforce the academic missions of universities and athletics departments,” said R. Gerald Turner, vice chairman of the Commission and president of Southern Methodist University. “While we have been successful in advocating for academic reform, we want to ensure that the people who matter most in this process are included as active participants.”

More information on the summit will be forthcoming from the Knight Commission. It will be open to the public, and students, athletes, and scholars who specialize in sport administration and education are urged to attend.

The Commission welcomes new members

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, welcomed new members of the Commission: Val Ackerman, president, USA Basketball; Bill Asbury, vice president emeritus for student affairs at Pennsylvania State University; Anita L. DeFrantz, president of the Amateur Athletic Federation of Los Angeles; Janet Hill, vice president, Alexander & Associates; Steve Largent, president and CEO, Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association; Andrea Fischer Newman, chairwoman of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan and senior vice president for government affairs at Northwest Airlines; Jerry L. Porras, professor emeritus of business at Stanford University; and Judy Woodruff, the broadcast journalist and former CNN anchorwoman.

The NCAA must defend academic standards

Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford, updated the Commission on plans for the association’s Academic Performance Program.

The Knight Commission urged Harrison and Britton Banowsky, chair of the appeals subcommittee and commissioner of Conference USA, to reject attempts to dilute the program through the appeals process. The Commission also endorsed plans being considered by the NCAA to provide financial incentives to institutions for high academic achievement and improvement, as well as to penalize teams for doing poorly in the classroom.

“In the Commission’s 2001 report, we recommended that revenue distribution be changed to consider values such as academic performance,” said Clifton R. Wharton, vice chairman of the Commission and president emeritus of Michigan State University. “Financial rewards must be tied to the values higher education believes are most important. The current distribution formula, with its emphasis on winning, is out of line with those values.”

Concern over increase in waivers of academic rules

The Commission also received a report on incoming athletes’ academic profiles for the past three years since the NCAA revised rules for initial eligibility. NCAA officials said that athletes’ academic profiles have not changed in the aggregate since 2002, when the association extended the “sliding scale” between test scores and high school grades to allow players with very low SAT scores to play in college, as long as they had extraordinarily high grades. There have not been large numbers of students with poor test scores enrolling in college, as many academic officials have feared.

The Commission, however, did raise concerns over a substantial increase in the number of waivers the NCAA has granted to entering students who do not meet these standards. The association’s data show that these athletes are at a very high risk of failure in the classroom. Subjecting underprepared athletes to the simultaneous stresses of Division I sports, college life, and academics is a recipe for failure, the Commission noted, especially given the NCAA’s tougher standards for continuing eligibility.

Faculty members encouraged to deepen involvement

The Commission also heard testimony from faculty members associated with the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Drake Group. The Commission agreed that faculty members ought to deepen their involvement in athletic issues and continue efforts to promote reform on their campuses.

Finally, the Knight Commission discussed the 12-year old certification process with past and current members of the NCAA’s Committee on Athletics Certification. Certification was a key tenet of the Commission’s 1991 report. Certification is similar to institutional accreditation: colleges prepare extensive self-studies, and representatives of the NCAA certification committee visit campuses and prepare their own reports. The committee then certifies colleges, certifies them with conditions, or declines to certify them.

The Commission urged the certification committee not to lose sight of the importance of fiscal issues, which has been weakened by the committee’s efforts to streamline the certification process.

Other continuing Commission members in attendance were Michael F. Adams, president of University of Georgia; Carol A. Cartwright, president of Kent State University; Hodding Carter III, former president and CEO, Knight Foundation; Peter Likins, president of the University of Arizona, and Charles E. Young, chancellor emeritus, UCLA and president emeritus, University of Florida.

The Commission’s new executive director, Amy P. Perko, and new associate director, Welch Suggs, staffed the meeting. Knight Commission chairman Thomas K. Hearn Jr. was unable to attend due to illness.


The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The goal of the Commission is to recommend a reform agenda that emphasizes academic values above the commercialization of college sports. The Commission has had a major impact on the conduct of college sports through its reports, Keeping Faith with the Student-Athlete (1991) and A Call to Action (2001). The Commission will continue to monitor and report on progress in presidential control, academic integrity, financial integrity and independent certification of athletics programs.


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