Left Out of NCAA Leadership

Faculty members call for greater representation within new governance structure of the college sports group.
April 24, 2009

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has pushed hard under President Myles Brand to emphasize its commitment to academics and the integration of sports in general campus life. Some faculty members, however, argue that they, as the strongest voices of academics and balance, have an insufficient role in the new governance structure of Division I -- one reorganized just last year to foster diversity and engagement among its leadership.

Josephine R. Potuto, chair of the Division IA Faculty Athletics Representatives and constitutional law professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, sent a formal letter to the Division I Board of Directors this week urging its members to correct a structure that she says often isolates the perspectives of faculty representatives and athletics administrators from one another.

As of last fall’s reorganization, most all of the division’s formal business passes through either the Leadership or Legislative Councils. The former identifies issues for the division to address and charts its future movements, while the latter approves changes to the NCAA bylaws and other legislative issues. Proposals and other changes to bylaws are formulated by six cabinets that focus on issues from recruiting to academic oversight and report to the Legislative Council.

All of the division’s 31 conferences have a single representative on the two major councils and the Championships/Sports Management Cabinet -- often considered the most important of the cabinets because the rules, football and basketball committees report to it. The remaining five cabinets have 20 members each in which the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) conferences are guaranteed a seat while the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) conferences and those without football teams are not.

Because representation in the governance structure is allocated by conferences – instead of by individual institution – conferences get to decide how they fill their number of allotted positions. Most often these positions are filled by athletics officials such as compliance officers or athletics directors from institutions within the conference, but they can also be filled by designated Faculty Athletics Representatives (FARs) -- of which each institution must have at least one. Conferences, however, are not required to appoint faculty representatives to their positions and, as a result, some appoint more than others to positions within NCAA governance.

Of primary concern to Potuto, “the more that an area has policy-articulating authority with far-reaching impact on the every-day operation of the athletic enterprise, the fewer the FARs who serve,” she wrote. Within the Leadership Council, for example, 58 percent, or 18, of the members are athletics directors and only 13 percent, or 4, are faculty representatives. An additional 7 spots are filled by conference commissioners. Within the all-important Legislative Council, only two of the 31 members are faculty representatives.

Among the lower cabinets that handle broader issues and report to the councils, Potuto argues that there is a different kind of underrepresentation. She writes that “there is little or no acknowledgment” that the issues that these cabinets cover “can be pigeonholed so neatly” into academic and athletic subsets. On the Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet, for example, there are no faculty representatives. Conversely, on the Academic Cabinet, there are only two athletics directors and one conference commissioner.

“The irony is that this distribution in governance participation flouts the foundational principle articulated by the Presidential Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics that athletics is not a satellite, free-standing operation but must be integrated into campus life and structures,” writes Potuto, arguing that key NCAA decisions should be made with “buy in” from “stakeholders,” academic and athletic alike.

David Berst, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I, said that some of the deficiency in faculty representation might be explained by diversity benchmarks that were put into place when the new governance structure was adopted. Every council and cabinet must have memberships that are at least 20 percent from racial minority groups and at least 35 percent of each gender. Given the makeup of the representatives appointed by the conferences, he noted that this can sometimes present difficulties putting forth faculty and other position-specific nominees.

Though Potuto and others lobbied for benchmarks for faculty representation on these councils and committees, Berst said the decision was made when the governance structure was reorganized that conferences should determine their number of faculty representatives and that the Board would “see how it pans out.”

Potuto argues that, “at an absolute minimum,” no less than 25 percent of all the spots on each of the councils and cabinets should be held by faculty representatives. She notes that the Academics Cabinet should have a higher standard -- 30 percent representation by faculty members. This would require the board to mandate that at least 49 of the 193 available spots on these bodies be filled by faculty representatives. Currently, there are only 33 faculty representatives in all councils and cabinets.

To accomplish this, Potuto recommends that each of the conferences be required to submit two names to fill vacancies -- one faculty representative and one “senior-level athletics administrator.” Under her model, conferences could select a preference, but a decision would be made ultimately to ensure that the required number of faculty representatives be seated.

Though Berst said he “recognizes the problem” identified by Potuto, he did not think any substantive changes could be made by the board at this juncture. Potuto’s petition will be an item on the board’s meeting next week, but Berst noted that there would only be cursory discussion of the item. Any major changes, he said, might take place only in 2010, when the board will formally review the new governance structure.

“It would be difficult to remove X percent of people and replace them with another group,” Berst said of any immediate changes to the structure. “I can’t imagine how that would be productive of the management of the division, generally. … Still, the Board has a genuine interest to hear the faculty voices, and I’ll believe they’ll want to push that point.”

For Potuto, the issue of faculty representation within the NCAA is even more important than some of the major academic reforms that have been made in recent years. She said she hopes the board will take this matter seriously.

“We’d like it solved yesterday,” Potuto quipped. “But, we understand the practical issues that might make it take a little while. From a [university] president’s perspective, athletic administrators are interested in academic issues that relate to a student’s well being in addition to their athletic ability. Still, faculty are in a better position to see the balance that academics bring to athletics. We reflect that balance and speak for a lot of stakeholders. This is critical in terms of the advancement of intercollegiate athletics.”


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