Isch Counsels Good Judgment in Athletics Investment

In the annual “State of the Association” address, NCAA Interim President Jim Isch told association members that the sustainability of athletics programs is “very much an institutional issue” and schools must use their best judgment to “find the appropriate value level of supporting athletics on campus.” Isch’s remarks were in response to the Knight Commission’s recent Presidential Survey on the Costs and Financing of Intercollegiate Athletics which found that most presidents believed the current economic model in college sports is unsustainable and uncontrollable. Isch stated the results of the survey indicated a sense among presidents that “intercollegiate athletics is spending more than it should, generating more revenue than is good for it, and that the values of higher education are being damaged.”

Isch noted that athletics budgets among Division I institutions range from $2.7 million to $123 million, representing “a growing lack of financial homogeny among a group of institutions all attempting to fly the same banner.” He reiterated a concern as stated by presidents in the Commission’s presidential survey that the gap between the haves and have-nots in major college sports is widening, and the effort for many institutions to sustain those behaviors to remain competitive in Division I “will likely become too exhaustive to maintain.”

While Isch doubted that the “institutional discipline” necessary to rein in spending could be accomplished nationally, he did say he would work with governance bodies over the next few months to develop “a normative approach that establishes some parameters.” His immediate advice, though, was for individual institutions “to determine the value of athletics to a campus that comports with the values of the institution itself,” and to promise “to ensure that entertainment is not the guiding principle for how athletics budgets are developed.”

Isch said the survey findings reiterate that the sustainability of athletics programs may be an issue for institutions to decide on their own. Isch reminded Convention attendees this was a similar message as that of the NCAA Presidential Task Force Report three years ago: “The reality for effective reform of spending and revenue generating behaviors for intercollegiate athletics is this: Each college and university must hold itself accountable for exercising its independent will as an institution of higher education. And it will do that best through well-informed, value driven and courageous presidential leadership.”