Three-quarters of the American public, nearly 70 percent of trustees and nearly half of presidents of NCAA Division I schools polled in a Louis Harris and Associates survey believe intercollegiate athletics is out of control. The survey was released Wednesday by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
Although presidents and others involved with intercollegiate athletics believe the schools will be able to reform themselves, the survey found that 60 percent of the public feels Congress or state legislatures probably will have to intervene in order for reform to take place.
The Knight Commission panel was sponsored by the Knight Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization. It has spent more than a year studying possible reforms in intercollegiate athletics and will make its report and recommendations public March 19. However, staff director Kit Morris said the survey was taken after the commission had agreed upon its recommendations and that the recommendations were not affected by the survey's results.
"After a year of testimony they didn't want to have their fundamental recommendations be driven by public opinion or by any of the specific constituent groups," Morris said.
But because the commission is "committed to seeing the implementation of its recommendations," Morris said, it initiated the Harris survey "to try to help us understand where there may be pressure points as we seek to move ahead and make our recommendations an appropriate part of legislative reform within the NCAA or, in other cases, part of the way the colleges and universities operate independently."
The survey was conducted between Dec. 19 and Feb. 17. It involved telephone interviews with 2,273 respondents, 1,255 of whom formed a national sample of the U.S. population. The remaining respondents included a variety of people associated with 150 universities that play big-time football or men's basketball, 76 members of Congress and 75 state legislators.
Topics covered by the survey questions included annual academic and financial audits of athletic departments and a code of ethics for presidents, athletic directors, coaches and players.
The answers, according to Harris, indicate that when the Knight Commission attempts to follow through on its recommendations, coaches will be the most difficult constituency to win over.
"Presidents, athletic directors, trustees, faculty and even boosters want (reform) by clear margins," Harris said. "Coaches do not."
As part of the survey, respondents were asked whether they favored Proposition 48 requirements for freshman eligibility, whether they favored requiring student-athletes to meet "the academic norms of achievement" for the freshman class of each university and whether they favored all contracts for coaches' outside income being made with the university, which then would decide the amount the coach receives. In each case, the coaches were the least receptive group.
More than 80 percent of the presidents, trustees, athletic directors, conference commissioners and faculty surveyed favored Proposition 48, which requires student-athletes to score at least 700 on the SAT or at least 18 on the ACT in order to be eligible to play as freshmen. Only 54 percent of the coaches favored Proposition 48.
More than 90 percent of the presidents, trustees and faculty, more than 80 percent of the athletic directors and 70 percent of the conference commissioners favored requiring student-athletes to meet the academic norms of achievement for the freshman class of each university. Sixty-eight percent of the coaches favored this.
On the issue of outside income for coaches, more than 60 percent of presidents, trustees, conference commissioners and faculty and 57 percent of the athletic directors favored all contracts for coaches' outside income being made directly with the university rather than the coaches. Just 19 percent of the coaches favored this.
In addition, coaches and booster club leaders were the only groups in which the majority did not support requiring that all funds from outside organizations, such as booster clubs, go to universities' general funds and making the athletic department subject to the same budgeting and financial controls as any other university department.
"The coaches have the greatest vested interest in what's being questioned," said Wake Forest President Thomas Hearn, a member of the Knight Commission as well as the NCAA Presidents Commission. "I think the coaches understand that the presidents and trustees will ultimately decide what is going to be done. But presidential involvement is relatively new, and in the past it was not always carefully thought out. We have to build some credibility with the coaches, and I think we are doing that through greater collaboration with the coaches' associations."
Harris's data indicated that the perceived problems in intercollegiate athletics are a function of overemphasis on athletics and a misguided primary goal of most big-time athletic programs. More than 87 percent of the faculty, three-quarters of the public and the trustees, 70 percent of the presidents and a majority of the athletic directors and conference commissioners agreed that in too many universities with big-time athletic programs, the academic mission has not been given proper priority over the athletic program. Also, all groups said that getting the university favorable attention was the primary goal of most big-time athletic programs.
Harris said the sampling error for the groups surveyed ranged from 1 1/2 to 2 percent for the presidents (75 were surveyed) to about 6 percent for the student-athletes (152 surveyed).