Kirwan Retiring as Chair of Knight Commission

Knight Foundation announces changes in leadership and membership

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen today announced leadership and membership changes to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, including the retirement of its chairman, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

Kirwan’s final meeting will be at the Commission’s session today at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. He has served on the Commission for 11 years, ten of those in a leadership position as chair or co-chair. Ibargüen announced that Carol Cartwright and Arne Duncan will serve as co-chairs beginning January 1, 2017. Cartwright is president emeritus of Kent State University and a former member of the NCAA Board of Directors; Duncan previously was the U.S. Secretary of Education and a first-team Academic All-American basketball player at Harvard University.

“Thanks in large measure to Brit Kirwan’s leadership, the Knight Commission has helped propel some big changes in college sports for the better and powerfully shaped the debate about the principles and policies that should guide college sports moving forward,” said Ibargüen.

During Kirwan’s tenure, the NCAA adopted a key Commission recommendation that teams must be on track to graduate at least half of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The NCAA, conferences, and universities have also implemented important reforms that align with the Commission’s principle of treating athletes as students first, instead of paid professionals. Those reforms include allowing multiyear athletic scholarships, increasing benefits to provide more financial support for educational costs, and providing financial support through degree completion after athletic scholarships end or athletes return to college to complete their degree. Currently, the NCAA is considering changes consistent with prior Knight Commission proposals that aim to reduce athletic time demands and alter the NCAA’s revenue distribution formula for the March Madness tournament, so that schools are rewarded not just for their athletic performance but for meeting academic expectations.

To recognize Kirwan’s service to the Knight Commission, the Knight Foundation is making a gift of $50,000 to the Fund for Excellence in the Mathematics Department at the University of Maryland that Kirwan and his wife Patty started.

Ibargüen also announced new membership appointments:

  • Christopher Howard, president of Robert Morris University, who was a Rhodes Scholar and a past winner of the Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the country presented to a senior college football player;
  • Angela Hucles, president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a former member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team;
  • Derek Kerr, executive vice president and chief financial officer of American Airlines;
  • Jonathan Mariner, former chief investment officer of Major League Baseball;
  • David Robinson, a former All-American basketball star with the U.S. Naval Academy and San Antonio Spurs, and co-founder and principal at Admiral Capital Group; and,
  • Nicholas Zeppos, chancellor of Vanderbilt University.

The following members will complete their membership terms at the end of this year:

  • Henry Bienen, president emeritus, Northwestern University
  • Sonja Steptoe, former journalist for TIME, Sports Illustrated, and the Wall Street Journal

Kirwan retired from the University System of Maryland after completing a successful 50-year career in higher education as a faculty member, university president, and chancellor. A nationally recognized authority on educational issues, Kirwan was recently appointed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland’s state legislature to head a Commission on Innovation and Excellence that will present school funding recommendations in December 2017.

Kirwan served as president of the University of Maryland (1988-98) and Ohio State University (1998-2002), and as chancellor of the University System of Maryland (2002-2015). Prior to his presidency at Maryland, he was a member of the University of Maryland faculty for 24 years.

Among his many honors is the 2010 TIAA Institute Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence. Considered one of the nation’s top higher education honors, the Hesburgh award recognizes leadership, commitment to higher education, and contributions to the greater good.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 to promote a reform agenda that emphasizes the educational mission of college sports. The Commission will hold a public meeting in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 24, 2016 at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum. More information about this meeting can be found at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The 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