Knight Commission, Panelists Call for Stronger Focus on Educational Mission in College Sports

[ Sessions and video with experts on academic reforms; NCAA governance; and well-being of athletes ]

Commission also announces latest update to its athletic and academic spending database

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics heard passionate dialogue during a meeting here Monday on a range of issues facing college sports, particularly issues of academics and well-being for college athletes.

“This is clearly a critical moment for college sports,” said R. Gerald Turner, co-chairman of the Commission and president of Southern Methodist University. “What we heard today will help shape the Commission’s agenda to preserve the core educational values of college sports while facing the challenges of the present day.”

Potential changes to the NCAA’s governance structure were a major focus of the conversation, particularly the desire of the five major conferences for more autonomy. The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors is considering its own membership composition. The Commission reiterated its call for the NCAA to add independent members to the board, particularly former college athletes and individuals with relevant professional experience.

Panelists expressed a strong desire to address issues of health, safety and educational outcomes for college athletes from a variety of perspectives. During the meeting, University of Hartford president Walter Harrison credited academic reforms inspired by the Knight Commission with increasing graduation rates for Division I athletes to 82 percent.

A theme running through the conversation was the need to bring more attention to the well-being of college athletes. Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby echoed calls for the “Big 5” leagues (the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12, and Southeastern Conferences) to receive more autonomy to manage issues such as increasing the value of a scholarship to the cost of attendance and allowing athletes to return to college to finish degrees after their sports careers are over.

Ramogi Huma, president of the National Collegiate Players Association, presented a set of proposals to preserve players’ publicity and labor rights, address brain injuries and cover players’ medical costs, and create an education trust fund.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, now chairman of the board of Georgetown University, placed issues in the context of broad challenges to American higher education. He called specifically for a recommittment of the NCAA and the college athletic establishment to academics.

“Perhaps instead of the NCAA, it should be the NCAAA,” Tagliabue said. “The National Collegiate Academic Athletic Association.”

The responses in both panels mirror concerns expressed by the Commission about making sure athletes have a successful academic experience, whether by guaranteeing scholarships for multiple years, using broadcast revenues to reward academic success, allocating new resources for health and safety, or other means.

The Commission also announced an update to its database on spending on college sports and academics among Division I public institutions. Data from 2005-12 are now available at Users can view graphs, sort data, and download their own files for individual colleges, conferences, or NCAA divisions.

The database shows the following trends:

  • From 2005-2012, in every Division I subdivision, athletic spending grew at a faster rate than academic spending on a per-capita basis. The gap is largest among those institutions competing in the FBS and smallest among those institutions without football.
  • From 2005-2012, academic spending at institutions in the FBS grew just 6% per capita after adjusting for inflation, while athletic spending grew 43% and football spending per football player grew 70% even without considering spending on athletic scholarships.
  • The growth in coaching salaries has been a big factor in athletic spending growth rates: among the five conferences with the largest athletics budgets, median coaching salaries increased as much as 70% in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 to 2012. Median coaching salaries at FBS schools rose 45% from 2005 to 2012.
  • From 2005-2012, in every Division I subdivision, the growth in institutional funding to athletics per athlete was greater than the growth in academic spending per student.
  • However, for institutions in the top spending quartile in the FBS, more significant growth in generated revenues has decreased the reliance on institutional funding through student fees and other sources.

The Commission will consider discussions from today’s meeting as it considers its strategic direction over the next few months. Transcripts and video from today’s meeting will be available later this week on the Commission’s website,


  • POWERPOINT of Knight Commission’s recent activities
  • PHOTOS from the meeting
  • VIDEOS from the meeting:
    • Session 1 – presentation (.mp4)
    • Session 1 – presentation, question & answer period (.mp4)
    • Session 2 – presentation, question & answer period (.mp4)

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 scandals in college sports. The Commission’s reports in 1991, 2001, and 2010 have shaped a significant portion of the NCAA’s reform of rules and governance. The Commission’s proposals and reports can be found at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit