The collegiate athletic model is under attack. A Greek chorus chants the refrain: college athletics are professional athletics; college athletics are divorced from campus life; college athletes are students in name only. Second verse same as the first.
The NCAA has three choices.
1. Do nothing. Hope the noise goes away. Bet that neither college athlete unions nor Congress will step in to fill the void.
2. Give up on the collegiate model, go pro, and pay college athletes.
3. Recalibrate the collegiate model to get closer to what colleges and campuses are all about while finding ways to enhance services and benefits to college athletes.
The NCAA Division I Board, comprising university presidents and chancellors, chose Door Number 3. It created a Steering Committee to get it done. (Division I includes all major football powers; its teams compete in the lucrative men’s basketball tournament.) So far, so good.
No issue in college athletics is exclusively academic/campus or exclusively athletics. Both perspectives need to be at the table if policy solutions are to be well-vetted and balance the requisites of athletics and the campus.
Directors of athletics (ADs) administer athletic programs. Of course they need to be heard, loud and clear, on the rules that govern their operation. Faculty athletic representatives (FARs) are faculty members with oversight of athletics on their campuses. Their voice is critical to re-energizing the “college” part of college athletics and monitoring to prevent relapse.
Suppose, however, that one believes, against all evidence, that issues can be neatly cubbyholed as academic or athletic. Suppose one believes that the collegiate model over all, in perception and substance, can be recalibrated with minimal faculty input. Suppose one believes the faculty role can and should be restricted to deal with academic issues only.
Well, let’s see where that takes us. In the current Division I structure, the Academic Cabinet, with nine faculty representatives out of 23 members, deals with academic matters – initial eligibility, continuing eligibility, academic integrity, evaluation of transcripts, etc. In the current structure, authority to develop a metric for assessing acceptable team overall academic performance, and the enforcement mechanism to push improvement, vests in a 16-member Committee on Academic Performance (CAP), where two FARs serve along with presidents and chancellors and campus athletic and academic administrators.
In the proposed new Division I, the functions of the Committee on Academic Performance and the Academic Cabinet will merge. It looks like the new Cabinet will have 20 members and report directly to the Division I Board. Best guess is that its membership will mirror CAP rather than the current Academic Cabinet. If so, faculty members will have two or at most three seats out of 20.
In the Division I governance model proposed by the Steering Committee, the Board will move from an operational policy-making role to one of oversight. The reason: presidents and chancellors have neither the time nor the focused operational expertise to be hands-on administrators.
But the Division I Board plans to stay active and hands-on with regard to the Academic Cabinet. Writ large, this makes sense. Athletic academic reform needs presidents and chancellors at the helm. For the most part, they were faculty members before they were administrators, and they understand academic issues from the inside.
Academic issues are neither understood nor resolved in a vacuum, however. Issues in a medical college also are academic. But a university president would not try to perform surgery. Or to set the criteria for how an operating room should function.
Under the Steering Committee’s proposal for how all other (non-academic) policy will be adopted, a new Division I Council will do the heavy lifting. Twenty-three of its 38 members (60 percent) will be ADs. Another four will be conference commissioners. Two spots are reserved for athletes. The remaining nine spots will have conference and other campus athletic administrators and, oh yes, FARs will be included in the mix. Unless my math fails me, that works out to maybe five FARs. And these five will come from schools in all three Division I subdivisions.
Schools in the five major conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC -- are the main target for claims that the collegiate model is a sham. They also face the greatest external pressures, from litigation to potential legislative intervention. These schools will have autonomy to handle some matters. For everything else the new Division I Council will be in charge.
The five conferences will have a weighted vote equal to about 38 percent of all Division I votes. Right now, one representative from each of the five major conferences will cast the conference vote. The Steering Committee declined to guarantee a strong FAR voice from these conferences by having 10 representatives -- an AD and FAR -- from each of the five conferences.
No doubt the Steering Committee faced a massive task in devising a new governance model. A lot of divergent interests were on the table, and a lot of stakeholders had to be accommodated. Liaisons to the Steering Committee met with Conference commissioners and ADs to get their input as the governance model was being built. FARs were not included.
With so many moving parts, any proposal had to be a compromise. Some compromises optimally weigh all interests. Some, like the present governance proposal, do not. Hopefully, there still is time to get it changed.
The Steering Committee’s task was to frame a new Division I governance structure to preserve and enhance the collegiate model. Try defining a university without mentioning faculty. It can’t be done.
But the proposed new Division I governance structure for college athletics leaves faculty as the odd person out. Go figure.
Josephine J. (Jo) Potuto is the Richard H. Larson Professor of Constitutional Law and faculty athletics representative at the University of Nebraska College of Law.
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