Knight Commission to Press for Fiscal Change at NCAA Scholarly Colloquium

On January 12, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics will encourage the NCAA to address the financial crisis in college sports in a presentation at the NCAA Scholarly Colloquium on Intercollegiate Athletics.

The Commission will discuss the recent survey of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) member presidents about the state of affairs in athletics, which revealed a widespread desire for change in fiscal matters. The discussion will be presented by Knight Commission co-chair and Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner, Knight Commission Executive Director Amy Perko, and Richard Hesel of the Art & Science Group, which conducted the study.

As stated in a recent article in the NCAA News, the Knight Commission’s presentation will focus on results from the Commission’s presidential survey indicating that the current financial model in big-time college athletics is not sustainable. Equally disturbing, though, is the consensus that presidents are unlikely to act unilaterally to create change.

“Everyone who loves intercollegiate athletics knows it is at risk because of the escalation in its cost,” Turner said. “There is an openness, willingness and hopefulness for change, but the pessimism in the survey is a reflection of a lack of power to act individually or even by conference.”

Thus, Turner said the Knight Commission wants to mediate a collaborative effort among NCAA members to implement change, much the same way the Association has done with academic reform. The challenge in the fiscal arena, however, is the inability to restrain spending (because of antitrust law) and the effect of moderation on competitive equity.

Turner believes the time is right to at least take the discussion seriously. As co-chair of the Knight Commission (along with William Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland) for several years and one of four subcommittee chairs on the NCAA Presidential Task Force (which called for a moderation in athletics spending four years ago), Turner has witnessed a momentum shift among his peers that has been accelerated by the current economy.

“The recession has brought to the fore on campuses their subsidies and the fact that their academic budgets are either going down or barely rising while their athletics expenditures seem immune,” Turner said. “Internal transfers are getting harder to make, and increases in income are not regarded as the salvation of the economic problems.”

The NCAA News pointed to the recent Washington Post editorial in which both Turner and Kirwan stated a FBS football playoff would only exacerbate the fundamental financial problems in intercollegiate athletics.

Turner stated that while nobody knows right now what the correct business model might be, the same was true years ago with academic reform. Implementation of eligibility standards and performance metrics over the past 20 years has led to an improvement in academic performance and graduation rates among college athletes. And, Turner believes the financial discussion is in a similarly formative stage.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of 20 years to figure it out,” he conceded. “What the commission is trying to do is facilitate the beginning of the conversation. The NCAA membership will come up with a solution, just like it did with [Academic Progress Rates]. It’s going to require a national effort, and ultimately that is the NCAA – that’s the only way all 120 of us in the Football Bowl Subdivision, where the problems are most acute, are organized,” he said.

“It’s not hard to see why the six major conferences probably aren’t going to lead the way in this – what we need is to create the kind of national resolve that carries along with it enough common good that even schools that don’t have financial stress will be willing to change for the good of the enterprise.”

The NCAA News included the complete schedule of the Colloquium, which will focus on how the economic recession is affecting college sports. The Knight Commission presentation will begin at 3 pm on January 12. Other primary speakers at the Colloquium are Rodney Fort from the University of Michigan, Richard Lapchick from the University of Central Florida, and Andrew Zimbalist from Smith College. Fort will question the sustainability of the current financial model. Lapchick will examine how the economic slump affects diversity and inclusion in college athletics. Zimbalist will present a study of how budget cuts affect decision-making in athletics.