Time to Reform System

Op-ed published in USA Today, November 13, 2009.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor, University System of Maryland

R. Gerald Turner, president, Southern Methodist University

As co-chairmen of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, we are concerned that cost escalation in athletics is diminishing support for academics at many universities. In the 2007-08 school year, nearly 80% of major athletic programs suffered operating deficits, with programs in the red losing an average of $9.9 million, according to the NCAA.

As USA TODAY’s story on coaches’ compensation implies, salaries are only the most visible example of the growth of the athletic enterprise and the challenges it poses to many institutions of higher education.

This is not a problem that can be solved by a few budget cuts, or by the decree of one courageous university president. Few college leaders believe big-time intercollegiate athletics are sustainable in their current form nationally. At the same time, they have limited power to make substantive change acting alone. Change can come only from collaborative actions, such as a transparent accounting of athletic finances. Some actions might prove unpopular on some campuses, so this collaboration must go beyond university presidents to members of the boards of trustees, donors, faculty, athletic policymakers and, yes, even passionate sports boosters.

The Knight Commission is leading a reform effort that we hope will begin to bring the finances of major college sports under control. To all who care about the appropriate role of intercollegiate athletics on our campuses, data and common sense show that the time has come for change.