Knight Commission Calls for College Sports Reform, Recommends Public Transparency of Finances and New Financial Incentives

“Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports” Reveals Huge Disparities between Spending on Athletics and Academics

Washington-(June 17, 2010) — Following an 18- month study of college sports finances, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released today a report that calls for financial reforms in college sports. It includes three principles for reining in spending.

Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports also finds that expenditures in big-time college sports grew 38 percent – nearly twice as much as spending on academics – from 2005 to 2008. The ten public institutions that spend the most on college sports are on pace to exceed $250 million annually in athletics expenses, on average, in 2020.

The report is particularly timely given the shifts in athletic conference affiliation that have dominated the news over the past weeks, which have been based at least in part on the desire to increase revenues to cover accelerating spending. This gives new urgency to the finding of a survey sponsored by the Knight Commission last year, in which a majority of university presidents agreed that current spending trends cannot be sustained and that leaders must work together to address escalating costs.

“There is every reason to believe that the current direction of big-time college sports is leading us to even greater imbalances in the fiscal priority for athletics over academics,” said Knight Commission Co-Chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor, University System of Maryland. “In last year’s survey, presidents asked for measures that could keep athletics spending in check and that would apply to all schools. These recommendations achieve those objectives. We now need presidents and their boards to support them.”

The Knight Commission’s blueprint for financial reform offers these three principles for reform:

  1. Requiring that financial reports be public and transparent;
  2. Rewarding institutions that make academic values a priority; and,
  3. Treating athletes as students first and foremost—not as professionals.

The Commission recommends that the financial reports filed by each institution with the NCAA should be made public, and include an additional measure comparing spending in athletics and academics.

“Academic reform in intercollegiate athletics began in earnest when graduation rates were first shared publicly,” Kirwan said. “We believe the same will be true for financial reform when there is far greater transparency on athletic expenditures.

“These big-time sports budgets are beginning to have a significant impact on college students, and financial data ought to be transparent and readily available to students, parents, trustees and taxpayers who have a stake in the spending.”

A second recommendation involves rewarding practices that prioritize academic values. The Commission believes teams should not be able to compete for a championship if they have failed to reach core academic benchmarks. The Commission recommends that teams only be allowed to compete in postseason championships if they achieve an Academic Progress Rate (APR) that predicts at least a 50 percent graduation rate of athletes under the NCAA’s graduation measure.

“The Commission first advocated for a 50 percent graduation rate benchmark for postseason eligibility in 2001, and the NCAA has adopted policies that have moved toward that goal,” said Knight Commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, president, Southern Methodist University. “Now, it is time to finish the job. The Commission believes tournament slots, and the financial rewards that accompany them, should be reserved for teams that meet legitimate academic standards.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released an official statement in support of the Knight Commission’s recommendation: “With this report, the Knight Commission has shown once again its steadfast commitment to protecting educational priorities and strengthening accountability in intercollegiate sports. I join the Knight Commission in calling for stronger eligibility standards for postseason play. Whatever the exact benchmark—I’ve proposed a 40 percent graduation rate cutoff that would increase to 50 percent—the NCAA needs to strengthen its use of the Academic Progress Rate (APR) index to protect the interests of student athletes and the integrity of their parent institutions in a more rigorous and timely fashion.”

The Commission also recommends that revenue distribution be more closely tied to the academic values. The report calls for the NCAA to create a new revenue distribution fund called the Academic-Athletics Balance Fund. All Division I institutions would be eligible if their teams have APR scores that predict at least a 50 percent graduation rate, and if they appropriately balance investments in athletics and education. The Commission recommends that this new fund be created by reallocating revenue currently awarded for success in the men’s basketball tournament.

Since Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions spend the most on athletics, a similar fund should be created for FBS members only, by redistributing Bowl Championship Series revenue. The Commission recommends that an equitable portion of bowl championship revenue be provided to each FBS conference to administer using the same eligibility criteria.

“The growing emphasis on winning games and pursuing TV contracts feeds the spending escalation,” said Knight Commission member Carol Cartwright, president, Bowling Green State University. “To preserve the integrity of college sports, we can no longer base rewards so heavily on winning but instead on maintaining the right balance between athletics and academics. We urge our presidential colleagues on the NCAA Board of Directors to adopt this plan.”

A series of recommendations centered on treating athletes as students first and foremost also have financial implications, including:

  • Limiting the length of the football postseason so it does not extend into the start of the second academic term,
  • Reducing the length of seasons and number of events, and
  • Preventing the use of athletes’ identities to promote commercial entities or products.

Former professional basketball player and Knight Commission member Len Elmore said, “Our objective is to ensure that pursuit of revenues to support intercollegiate athletics does not infringe upon athletes’ rights and their academic priorities.”

The Commission also recommends a number of cost-saving measures, including: examining scholarship offerings, such as a decrease of eight to 10 football scholarships in the Football Bowl Subdivision and limiting the number of non-coaching personnel.

Restoring the Balance is the third major report released by the Knight Commission in its 20-year history. To read the statements of support from higher education leaders and to learn more about the specific recommendations, access video clips, visit

Audio & Video Files

Audio and video of the press conference announcing the report are available.

An interactive multimedia website of the report is available at

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics 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 was to promote a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in a climate in which commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. More information about the Commission’s history including prior reports can be found at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit