Getting Faculty Off The Sidelines

Report from athletics reform group calls on professors to be included in major sports decisions on campuses.
June 19, 2007

There are times in a professor's career when, reacting to decisions made by athletics department officials at his institution, he might proclaim: "If only they had asked for my opinion."

If an athletics reform group made up of 55 Division I-A faculty senates has its way, that will be a regular occurrence. In "Framing the Future: Reforming Intercollegiate Athletics," a white paper released Monday, the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics calls for a greater role for professors in overseeing what happens on the sports side of institutions.

Faculty have intermittently sought a greater role in efforts to reform college athletics, but national efforts in the late 1980s by the American Association of University Professors and other groups sputtered and more recent campaigns by the Drake Group have failed to gain a mainstream footing. Over the years, the topic of involvement from professors has remained a popular one among groups such as the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

COIA's report is meant as a summation of years of conversations about athletics reform. "It pretty much outlines the direction that intercollegiate athletics needs to take to reintegrate itself back into the university," said Nathan Tublitz, co-chair of COIA and a professor of biology at the University of Oregon.

The group advocates the creation of a Campus Athletic Board on each campus, a majority of whose members would be tenured professors selected through faculty governance structures. The report says the faculty athletic representative should be an ex officio voting or non-voting member of the board, and that the chair should be a senior faculty member -- and not an athletics director. This board would be consulted on all major athletics decisions, including the recruiting of athletes, hiring of key officials, changes in the number of sports offered and addition of significant facilities.

Leaders of the campus faculty governance board would meet annually with the college president to ensure that faculty members on the athletics board are fulfilling their oversight responsibilities. However these athletics boards are set up, the intention, Tublitz said, is to integrate faculty into everyday decision making that takes place by athletics officials.

"We're not talking about a major shift in structure or reporting," Tublitz said. "We're just saying there are very complicated issues in athletics. Faculty need to be involved in the conversation. This is a movement toward democracy."

Many campuses already have athletics councils made up of some faculty that advise sports staffs in much the way the COIA proposal advocates. At these colleges, faculty often serve as liaisons between the campus and its athletics wing, usually in the form of the faculty athletics representatives. Tublitz said the proposal is to ensure that those institutions without functioning boards form them, and to make certain that those that already have them keep the strong oversight role.

Tublitz added that the athletic board reform isn't an indication that his group thinks faculty athletic representatives are doing a poor job -- just that they need help.

R. Scott Kretchmar, a faculty athletic representative and professor of exercise and sport science at Pennsylvania State University, agreed that there is "not enough sunshine" when it comes to how athletics departments make decisions, and that there is too little faculty involvement. (Leaders of the Division I faculty representatives group did not return messages for comment.)

The majority of COIA's paper focuses on the "primacy of academics," saying that:

  • Students should be admitted to college based on their potential for academic success and not primarily based on athletic contributions.
  • Admissions policies should be the same for all students.
  • The academic profiles of first-year and transfer athletes should be similar to non-athlete cohorts, and special admissions of athletes should reflect the same philosophy as special admissions of other students.
  • No academic programs or majors should be designed specifically for athletes or created to allow them to keep their eligibility, and the Campus Athletic Board should monitor athlete enrollment by course.
  • All graduation rate data -- including the real-time Academic Progress Rate and the cumulative Graduation Success Rate -- should be reviewed by a campus governance body.
  • A cumulative grade point average of 2.0 should be the minimum for eligibility.
  • Academic advising should take place through the existing academic structure and not through the athletics department, with the chief academic officer for the institution having oversight of the programs.
  • Individual athletic competitions should not be scheduled during final exams and travel should be scheduled to minimize lost class time.

The report also calls for fiscal changes, such as keeping the overall annual growth rate for sports' operating expenditures no greater than the overall annual growth rate in the university's operating expenditures. Athletic fund raising, the paper says, should be incorporated into general fund raising efforts.

"None of the proposals by themselves will effect much in intercollegiate athletics, but as a group they will help reintegrate athletics," Tublitz said.

Kretchmar, the Penn State professor, said the ideas in the report are "moderate and reasonable, and have teeth." But he said whether they are carried out depends on what kind of peer pressure is applied by conference commissioners, presidents and even athletics directors who support the efforts.

Tublitz said he would like the reforms to be discussed by individual colleges, conference commissioners and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which he said already has been presented with many ideas discussed in the report.

Kevin Lennon, vice president for member services at the NCAA, said the association plans to take parts of the proposal to its members for discussions and votes. While not directly commenting on the proposal for a Campus Athletic Board, Lennon said he is encouraged by the amount of faculty engagement in intercollegiate sports reform.

"There's a critical role for faculty to play," he said. "They've been a part of the process for a long time."

David Ridpath, executive director of the Drake Group and an assistant professor of sports administration at Mississippi State University, said he isn't optimistic that the NCAA will adopt COIA's reforms through the governance process. The association, he said, has left similar proposals on the shelves.

Ridpath said the faculty involvement proposals are some of the most important in the paper.

"Having tenured faculty in a position to actually establish and influence policy, without the threat of retaliation, bodes well for better faculty involvement and oversight. If established, however, these boards must have the ability and authority to check and balance the athletic department and the president with regard to athletic issues -- just as the faculty senate does.

"Clearly the (faculty athletic representatives) on each campus has either abandoned the established mission and fallen in with the athletic machine, or he/she does not care. A faculty athletics board may mitigate some of these issues."

Ridpath added that while the paper doesn't go far enough in calling for a return to freshman ineligibility, it does deal with key issues, such as changes to how academic advising works and when games are scheduled.


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