After spirited debate over how to improve student athletes’ performance in the classroom, the University of California regents on Thursday blocked a proposed new policy that would have linked coaches’ compensation to their teams’ grades and graduation rates.
Several regents, including Gov. Jerry Brown, said they thought the plan’s academic standards were too low and would have no impact since all but one of the more than 120 UC varsity teams already met them.
Other regents said they were worried that UC would lose important athletes to other schools if the requirements were set too high and that some low-income and minority students could lose an avenue to professional sports careers.
With all that argument, George Kieffer, chairman of the regents compensation committee, moved to pull the matter from an imminent vote and said that the proposal would be revised in coming months.
Also withdrawn was a related and similarly controversial item that would have allowed for quick hiring of high-salary athletic coaches without the usual approval of the full Board of Regents.
“Listening to the board discussions, it was determined there was substantial disagreement and there ought to be a further review,” Kieffer said of both proposals.
A task force appointed by UC President Janet Napolitano had proposed that all new and updated contracts deny coaches their potential hefty incentive bonuses –- even those linked to winning seasons -- if the team average for students on athletic scholarships is too low. The plan was to use the same complicated point system and minimum standards of grades, six-year graduation rates and other measures that the NCAA requires for teams to compete in championships.
Across the UC system, only UC Riverside’s men’s basketball team failed to hit those academic marks in a recent accounting. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is a regent, said the proposal was meaningless.
"We are doing almost nothing here under the illusion we are doing something,” he said.
Brown referred to the classical ideals of ancient Greece and Rome that, he said, better integrated body and mind. The governor said the academic standards in the plan were too low and that it “distorts the fundamental essence of the university and its capacity to be a leader and enjoy and command widespread support form the people of California.”
However, regent Eddie Island, who often speaks of concerns that matter to low-income and minority students, said that UC should not “impose a cultural arrogance” and set standards too high for athletes. Some enroll at UC more to gain the experience and record to get hired by professional teams, not to get a college degree right away, he said.
“We ought not put harmful stumbling blocks in the way of young people’s dreams” of pro careers, he said.