Knight Commission Meeting Highlights Urgency for Changing CFP and NCAA Governance and Financial Distributions

Knight Commission Announces C.A.R.E. Model Grants for Division I Conferences

Washington, D.C.–The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics met today in Washington, D.C. to discuss the once-in-a-generation opportunity that the NCAA and the College Football Playoff (CFP) now have to reform Division I athletics to better support athletes and curb exorbitant spending on Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football coaches.

Against the backdrop of court cases that could reshape the entire structure of Division I sports, and an incoming flood of uncommitted revenues from an expanded CFP, the Knight Commission underscored the urgent need to adopt its package of proposed remedies for runaway athletic spending. The Commission’s solutions are receiving new consideration and are timelier than ever, including a new financial framework that would embed education-based principles in national and conference-based financial incentives and create new athlete-centric spending requirements.

“With an influx of billions of dollars in new and uncommitted revenue through an expanded CFP format, it is time for FBS leaders to earmark at least half of those new revenues to benefit college athletes directly through new health and safety protections like a medical care trust fund,” said Co-Chair Arne Duncan. “If universities, and especially university presidents in the autonomy conferences don’t act now,” Duncan added, “they will, once and for all, effectively turn over the future of their athletics programs to the courts, their media partners, and coaches’ agents.”

At the meeting, the Commission announced a new program of Division I conference grants that will be posted on website) that implement the Commission’s “C.A.R.E. Model” principles for their conference revenue distributions and their uses of “shared athletics revenues.” The C.A.R.E. Model creates an important and essential paradigm shift by restructuring financial distributions to provide substantially more financial support for college athletes’ education, health, gender equity, and athletic opportunities. Division I shared athletics revenues, including NCAA championship revenues and CFP revenues, are large and projected to grow rapidly in the next decade—from more than $3.5 billion annually today to more than $8 billion annually by 2032. Conferences can use the grants to implement the five education-based C.A.R.E. Model principles.

The meeting highlighted findings from the Commission’s recent groundbreaking report, “Financial Projections through 2032 for Division I FBS Programs.” The report is based on an independent financial analysis from financial services firm CLA (CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP) that used actual athletics revenue and expense data, along with new projected revenue, to model a future financial landscape for the coming decade for public FBS athletics programs if they continue their current course of spending.

The report found that if the FBS programs don’t change course, the multibillion-dollar windfall from the CFP, and more lucrative conference media contracts, will dramatically accelerate the cost spiral of exorbitant football coaching salaries and “dead money” severance payouts. Projections show that continuing “business-as-usual” will lead to nearly half of all public institutions in “power” conferences spending more just on their 11 football coaches’ compensation than total spending on all athletes’ tuition, housing, meals, cost of attendance stipends, medical expenses, and insurance coverage at their respective institutions.

“This jarring ‘crossover point’—spending more on 11 football coaches’ compensation than on scholarship and medical benefits for all of their college athletes across all sports at their institution—is deeply at odds with the educational mission of taxpayer-supported public universities,” said Commission Co-Chair Len Elmore. “It is troubling that institutionally-reported data shows that nine public schools in the autonomy conferences have already reached this alarming crossover point.”

Co-Chair Pam Bernard added, “A good start to reset spending priorities with new revenues would be to add independent directors to both the CFP and NCAA Division I governing boards. That reform is standard good practice for an obvious reason—having independent directors would help reduce the likelihood that CFP and NCAA board members will just follow their own programs’ competitive and financial self-interests.”

During the meeting, the Commission heard from two experienced athletics directors—Damon Evans, athletics director, University of Maryland, and Kevin White, vice president and athletics director emeritus, Duke University, as well as Kelleigh Fagan, a Title IX legal expert.

For Duncan, who has completed the maximum of eight consecutive years as a Knight Commission member, the meeting was his last serving with the commission. Duncan was a co-chair for seven of his years on the commission and co-vice chair during his initial member year in 2016. Before joining the Knight Commission, and during his tenure as U.S. Secretary of Education, Duncan helped propel the NCAA’s 2011 adoption of one of the Commission’s cornerstone recommendations—that teams must be on track to graduate at least half of their players to be eligible for postseason play and championships. That NCAA policy change helped lead to record high graduation rates for Division I athletes.

“I’ve loved my time on the Knight Commission, and particularly the fact that the Commission has put forth far-reaching reform proposals, instead of tinkering at the edges,” said Duncan. “The challenge now to better protect athletes’ health, safety, and education is whether the powers-that-be in Division I sports—the CFP, the NCAA, the Autonomy Conference Commissioners and athletics directors, and university presidents themselves—are finally willing to make bold changes for Division I sports? Earmarking half of the new revenues from the expanded CFP for new athlete health and safety benefits and protections will be an important first step toward a new era.”

To read more about the C.A.R.E. Model Conference Grant program, click here.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
The Knight Commission, founded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 1989, is an independent group that leads transformational change to prioritize college athletes’ education, health, safety, and success. Knight Foundation has been its sole funder to ensure its independence. For more information about the Commission’s impact, recommendations, and reports, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

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