Knight Commission Calls for Examination of College Sports Governance, While Recognizing NCAA Steps Toward Reform

[ Sessions and audio with NCAA President Mark Emmert; discussion of Knight Commission's governance concerns and calls for academic eligibility for postseason ]

Commission concerned about impact of commercial decisions
for college football on Division I landscape

For 2011 financial data, click here.

WASHINGTON Amid a growing sense of crisis in college sports, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics heard evidence today that the challenges colleges face are beyond the scope of current reform efforts.

The Commission applauded the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s recent progress, and urged the speedy enactment of many of its proposed reforms.

At the same time, the Commission said these steps alone would not ensure the integrity of sports in higher education, and emphasized the underlying drivers of conference realignment and other accelerating trends.

Specifically, the Commission noted the influx in coming years of almost $14 billion in renegotiated television contracts, primarily for regular-season football, to the five richest conferences. The Commission will pursue transparency and accountability measures to ensure that these funds are used to further institutions’ educational missions and not simply to increase athletic expenditures.

The Commission also will assess the complicated relationships among the NCAA, the Bowl Championship Series, Division I conferences, and their member institutions. In particular, the Commission will examine the impact of changing conferences primarily to increase revenue for football, and the impact such changes have on other sports.

“We are trying to promote the financial stability and values of a unique American tradition,” said Co-Chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “President Emmert and the current NCAA Board have a meaningful reform agenda. However, the Commission is concerned that the fragmented governance of the biggest engine driving college sports, football, limits the long-term effectiveness of any transformational efforts.”

The Commission intends to pursue partnerships with other foundations, higher-education associations, independent research groups, and other interested parties in studying the governance model for Division I college sports and making recommendations to improve accountability.

The Commission also announced six grants totaling $100,000 to independent scholars to study policy issues in intercollegiate athletics, with results of their studies to be released in October 2012. Topics include the role of university boards of directors, voting patterns on NCAA rules changes, and spending trends in intercollegiate athletics.

Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, reported that the association adopted the Knight Commission’s recommendation that teams meet an academic threshold to be eligible for postseason championships, including postseason football games, and that the NCAA Board would determine the implementation schedule for this change at its meeting later this week. A number of other Commission recommendations were reported as being included in the NCAA’s current reform agenda, including an academic threshold requirement to be eligible for a portion of NCAA revenues.

Gerald Turner, Knight Commission Co-Chairman, said, “The Commission is pleased to see the proposals it has championed for many years be embraced as policies to realign college sports with its values. This agenda is a very good first step.”

Financial data presented to the Commission by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs today show that over the past four years, per-capita athletics expenditures in the Football Bowl Subdivision grew 50 percent—more than twice as much as spending on academics. The Commission discussed projections that the five major football conferences will more than double their television revenues by 2012-13 as a result of new and renegotiated contracts. More data are available on the Commission’s website at

The Commission continues its call for greater financial transparency for college sports and for the NCAA to require institutions to publish measures that compare athletics and academic spending.

The Knight Commission released a number of policy recommendations in its June 2010 report titled Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports. The following policy changes being considered by the NCAA were recommended by the Commission in this and prior reports:

  • Requiring that an academic threshold be met to receive a portion of NCAA revenues
  • Allowing multi-year scholarships
  • Eliminating or reducing the nontraditional seasons, such as fall baseball
  • Establishing new rules on the number of non-coaching personnel
  • Reducing the length of seasons and number of events
  • Reducing the number of scholarships
  • Changing the NCAA certification process to include stronger measures of financial integrity
  • Establishing an earlier date to complete postseason football competition to eliminate intrusion on academic schedules
  • Allowing scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance (Note: The Commission’s 1991 and 2001 recommendations on this subject limited its proposal to those athletes who demonstrated financial need)

Financial data

October 2011 updated financial data to the 2010 Knight Commission report, Restoring the Balance:

Audio broadcast from Session 1 (mp3): Update on Financial Trends in Academic and Athletics Spending at Division I Universities

Audio broadcast from Session 2 (mp3): Discussion with NCAA President Mark Emmert

Audio broadcast from Session 3 (mp3): Presidential Viewpoints on the Future of Division I Athletics


About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

TheKnight 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 Commission’s goal is to promote a reform agenda that emphasizes academic values in a climate in which commercialization of college sports often overshadows the underlying goals of higher education. In June 2010, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released its third major report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports. More information about the Commission including its 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 information, visit