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Researchers Offer Slew of Policy Suggestions for Governing Athletics

Washington

Six sets of researchers who won grants totaling roughly $100,000 from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics presented their findings at a meeting here on Tuesday related to the governing structure behind intercollegiate athletic departments and other athletic leadership.

While the studies all focused on higher education and intercollegiate athletics, the long-term scope of the researchers' recommendations should pique the interest of K-12 school officials and any precollegiate athlete hoping to extend his or her athletic career through college.

The first study presented at the session, "Trust, Accountability, and Integrity: Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics," centered on the role of college boards in terms of athletics oversight. Given the scandal that's unfolded over the past year at Pennsylvania State University with former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, it couldn't have been more timely, as study authors John G. Casteen and Richard D. Legon were quick to point out.

Casteen and Legon offer three main recommendations to university boards in their report: Recognize that they are ultimately accountable for athletics policy, act decisively to uphold the integrity of the athletics program, and educate themselves about their policy role in intercollegiate athletics.

While the report specifically focused upon higher education, those same recommendations could very well apply to K-12 school boards and districts as well. As we were reminded this week by the Des Moines (Iowa) school district, when K-12 coaches allegedly get out of line and break school policies (like, say, a coach "hazing and bullying" a student by making him run as punishment for 30+ minutes without a water break), the school and/or district is the one that's left to intervene. K-12 boards also must maintain the proper balance between athletics and academics in their schools, like university boards.

NCAA Student-Athletes' Well-Being Ignored?

The second half of the Knight session led off with the presentation of the report, "What's at our core? NCAA Division I Voting Patterns vs. Student-Athlete Well-Being, Academic Standards, and the Amateur (Collegiate) Model," authored by Josephine Potuto, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Nebraska, Connie Dillon, a professor emerita of adult and higher education at the University of Oklahoma, and David Clough, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado.

The three authors reviewed 587 of the 1,013 NCAA proposals issued from the 2004-05 school year through the 2010-11 school year to examine voting patterns and see whether member institutions voted in a way that upholds the NCAA's core values of student-athlete well-being, academic excellence, and the amateur (collegiate) model. After slicing off the noncontroversial and emergency measures, they included 345 in the study for review.

Based on their findings, it was "not apparent that the core values of student-athlete well-being and academic standards significantly affect Division I overall or subdivisional voting patterns," Clough said. The economic impact of proposals, on the other hand, did have a significant impact in determining whether institutions would vote for approval of policies.

The researchers did find that legislative proposals targeting student-athlete well-being or academics were passed at a higher rate if they contained no economic or competitive impacts for institutions.

They suggested other factors, such as institutional autonomy, compliance concerns, or perceptions that a proposal cannot meet its goals, may also play a part in voting decisions.

One final note from this team: When reviewing the NCAA legislative proposals, the researchers noticed a few trends regarding Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) schools. Institutions with no football teams and institutions belonging to the Football Championship Series (formerly known as Division I-AA) had no distinguishable voting patterns, leading the researchers to wonder whether these subdivisions should be merged.

The FBS schools tended to differ greatly in voting patterns from FCS schools and schools with no football, also leading the researchers to at least raise the question of whether the FBS schools should break off into their own "super-conference." With the divisional realignment that's been gripping intercollegiate athletics over the past few years, the "superconference" idea is one that's been floated in the past, too.

The Financial Arms Race

Two other reports presented during the Knight meeting Tuesday focused on the financial structure of Division I athletic departments, and the ongoing arms race between elite athletic programs and all other institutions. One of the two studies' authors, John J. Cheslock, the director of the Center of the Study of Higher Education at Penn State, broke his work down into six words: "Diverging revenues, cascading expenditures, ensuring subsidies."

In layman's terms: A great deal of money has gone toward intercollegiate athletics in recent years (namely, television revenues), but a small number of elite institutions gathered a lion's share of that revenue. Those elite institutions spend said revenue on their athletic programs, which caused institutions with fewer economic resources to also spend in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. If the poorer athletic programs continue to raise their expenditures without raising resources, they'll have to rely on other forms of revenue (student subsidies?) to stay afloat.

"Athletics isn't the only thing creating challenges in higher education," Cheslock said, "it's just part of the larger context." He noted how federal and state funding for higher education has only eroded in recent years and faces an uncertain future for many institutions.

Cheslock and his colleague, David B. Knight (a postdoctoral fellow in engineering education at the University of Queensland), suggest in the report that if revenue was distributed in a more even way, it could decrease the pressure felt by athletic programs at universities with fewer resources. That, in turn, could help prevent said universities from raising student fees or other subsidies to keep their athletic departments above water.

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