Knight Commission urges that college athletics share the wealth

As several major conferences reshuffle their membership in search of bigger TV dollars, a blue-ribbon panel led by university presidents has called for changes in the big business of college sports.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued its report on Thursday, recommending that athletic departments share the wealth with other parts of campus and that the NCAA issue reports on how much schools are spending on their teams.

“There must be a bright line between college and professional sports,” said Len Elmore, a commission member and former pro basketball player. “We’re not saying that there cannot be an investment in sports, we’re saying the investment needs to be put in perspective.”

It was almost two decades ago that the Knight Commission issued its “Call to Action” report asking for stricter classroom standards for athletes. The NCAA eventually enacted wide-reaching academic reforms under late president Myles Brand.

The latest report from the 22-member group, which includes current and former administrators from Georgia, Southern Methodist and UCLA, addressed many of the same issues raised by recent conference realignments.

The Pacific 10 Conference has added Colorado and Utah — the latter accepting an invitation on Thursday — and the Big Ten added Nebraska. The Big 12 survived defections, in part, by offering a deal that gives Texas a chance to increase its television revenue.

“The situation we’re in right now is basically a financial race to generate more and more money,” said William Kirwan, co-chairman and chancellor of Maryland’s university system.

Last year, the Knight Commission surveyed university presidents whose schools have major football teams and found a majority worry that current athletic spending cannot be sustained, especially at a time when schools are struggling to meet the needs of students.

The commission’s “Restoring the Balance” report says that in 2008, schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision spent 6.3 times more per athlete on sports than they did per student on academics.

The Pac-10 fared slightly better than the median, spending 6.2 times more. The Southeastern Conference spent 10.8 times more.

Among its recommendations, the Knight Commission wants to see some postseason football and basketball tournament revenue redirected to schools that demonstrate a measurable balance between academics and athletics.

The NCAA already compiles standardized reports on athletic spending that it shares with school administrators — the report suggests making them public.

The commission also wants quicker, tougher postseason penalties for teams that fail to meet the minimum 925 score on the Academic Progress Rates.

Other recommendations involved shortening seasons and banning the use of student-athletes in advertisements for video games and other commercial ventures.

The NCAA is “overwhelmingly in concert” with the commission, NCAA interim president Jim Isch said in a statement. However, Isch argued that the APR’s current penalty structure is “fair and has the desired effect.”

Commission members acknowledged that athletic spending issues won’t be resolved quickly, but member Carol Cartwright, the president of Bowling Green, hoped the NCAA would begin to take action “a step at a time.”