If you care at all about college athletics or its relationship to the mission of higher education, I urge you to read the Report of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, released in June. This report is a follow-up to the Foundation’s report of 1991, which proposed what it called a “one plus three” approach for intercollegiate athletics—presidential control directed toward academic integrity, financial integrity, and independent certification of athletics programs—to rectify what it considered widespread abuses that were undermining the integrity of the sponsoring institutions.
In its recent report, the Commission finds that, despite considerable progress with its previously recommended reforms, “….the problems of big-time college sports have grown rather than diminished. The most glaring elements of the problems outlined—academic transgressions, a financial arms race, and commercialization—are all evidence of the widening chasm between higher education’s ideals and big-time college sports.” It recommends a new “one plus three” model—a Council of Presidents directed toward an agenda of academic reform, de-escalation of the athletic arms race, and de-emphasis of the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics. In short, the goal should be “the reintegration of college sports into the moral and institutional culture of the university”.
After reading the report, I cannot find one aspect of it with which I disagree, either in its findings or recommendations. In fact, I would have made some of the latter even stronger. My support of and involvement with college sports has been lifelong, but I have been greatly disappointed over the past couple of decades in the obvious trends in college athletics in which most major universities have been willing and often, no doubt, unwilling participants. At the major college level, we are, in effect, complicit in a lie—the myth of the student-athlete—and have become totally beholden to, and corrupted by, the professional sports leagues, particularly the NFL and NBA, in the management of our major men’s athletic programs.
No one wants success on the field and the court for my alma mater more than I do, but make no mistake—the trustees and alumni of our major universities are the only sources of leadership that can reverse the trends, which I believe we must do before the integrity of the mission of higher education is permanently undermined.