Growing Impact of High Financial Stakes in College Sports Highlighted at Knight Commission Meeting

[Sessions and audio with researchers about the role of athletics relating to institutional finances, student tuition and fees ]

Reports Call for Stronger Board Oversight and New Policy Approaches to Address the Widening Divide among Athletics Programs

WASHINGTON—The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics met in Washington, D.C. to hear research reports from higher education experts and scholars that reaffirmed the need for different policy approaches and stronger board oversight in college sports.

Research findings highlighted the widening divide in college sports between the “haves” and “have-nots,” and its potential impact on institutional finances, student tuition and fees. The divide also reveals itself in votes on NCAA rules that impact athlete well-being, academic standards and “the collegiate model.”

The research findings were the centerpiece of a meeting in which the Commission discussed progress that had been made on its most recent policy initiative to impact the distribution of a projected $500 million in annual revenue from the future football playoff. The Commission has advocated that academic outcomes, such as graduation rates, be considered in the formula for distributing the windfall of new revenue. The Commission also reviewed advancements in reform. Most prominently, the NCAA adopted one of the Knight Commission’s central recommendations that a team should be required to be on track to graduate 50 percent of its players to be eligible for a postseason championship.

“This is a crucial moment for ensuring the integrity of college sports,” said William E. (Brit) Kirwan, co-chairman of the Commission and chancellor of the University System of Maryland. “We need to think beyond the payoff from a playoff and consider an incentive structure that strengthens the educational missions of our programs for the long term.”

Research: Shaping policy and practice in intercollegiate athletics

Last year, the Knight Commission awarded grants totaling $100,000 to six research projects focused on policy and practice in intercollegiate athletics—building on the Commission’s legacy as a change agent to enhance the ability of sports programs to benefit both students and institutions. The grants went to a combination of established scholars and new voices in the fast-growing area of sport policy, embracing practitioners and scholars of both higher education and sport management.

“Our goal was to seed the field for new work and new voices beyond what the Commission has done,” said R. Gerald Turner, co-chairman of the Commission and president of Southern Methodist University. “We thought it was important to take the Commission’s record on promoting policy and positive change in higher education and support others in their complementary efforts.”

The research findings contribute to the ongoing work of the Commission to examine governance issues in college sports. Among the research findings, the Association of Governing Boards report concludes with a set of recommendations for boards (exercising appropriate oversight while respecting the authority of campus presidents and chancellors), presidents (acting transparently on matters of athletics), and the NCAA (ensuring that its manuals recognize the role and importance of trustees).

“Our concern is that if boards do not act to ensure an appropriate balance between athletics and academics in our higher education institutions, policy makers or others will do it for us,” write the authors.

All of the research reports are available as PDF documents and the individual reports are hyperlinked below.

Project 1: “Trust, Accountability, and Integrity: Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics.” Authors: John Casteen, University of Virginia, and Richard D. Legon, Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities. PPT.

Project 2: “Following a Problematic, Yet Predictable, Path: The Unsustainable Nature of the Intercollegiate Athletics System.” Authors: John J. Cheslock and David B. Knight, Pennsylvania State University. PPT.

Project 3: “De-escalation of Commitment among Division I Athletic Departments.” Authors: Michael Hutchinson, University of Memphis, and Adrien Bouchet, University of Tulsa. PPT.

Project 4: “Examining Administrator and Coach Perceptions of Value Systems in NCAA Division I Athletic Departments.” Authors: Coyte G. Cooper and Erianne A. Weight, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. PPT.

Project 5: “What’s at our core? NCAA Division I Voting Patterns vs. Student-Athlete Well-Being, Academic Standards, and the Amateur (Collegiate) Model” Authors: Josephine (Jo) R. Potuto, University of Nebraska; Connie Dillon, University of Oklahoma; and David Clough, University of Colorado. PPT.

Project 6: “Competition and Control in The Gridiron Marketplace: Findings from the Intercollegiate Athletics Leadership Database.” Jennifer Lee Hoffman, Assistant Professor, Center for Leadership in Athletics, University of Washington. PPT.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight 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. The NCAA adopted one of the report’s central recommendations in 2011 requiring teams to be on track to graduate more than 50 percent of their players in order to be eligible for postseason competition. 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


Research session 1 – mp3

Research session 2 – mp3