The Knight Commission goes soft on college sports
The long-awaited Knight Foundation Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics, published last week, made this pronouncement: "The burden of leadership falls on [the president] for the conduct of the institution, whether in the classroom or on the playing field."
The statement has a familiar ring. Back in 1929, the Carnegie Foundation study on collegiate athletics had this to say: "The responsibility to bring athletics into a sincere relation to the intellectual life of the college rests squarely on the shoulders of the president and faculty."
After spending 18 months and $2 million studying the ethical ills of intercollegiate sports, the Knight Commission, a panel of 22 college, business and political leaders, reached a conclusion that has been obvious for at least six decades: College presidents should become more involved with their athletic departments. Unfortunately, the commission offered few specific suggestions as to what the presidents should do after they become involved.
To be sure, some of the commission's proposals have merit: awarding five-year athletic scholarships instead of one-year grants renewable at the school's option; making athletes maintain progress toward a degree to remain eligible; and, to lessen the pressures to win, signing coaches to long-term contracts. The commission also called for the creation of an independent body to certify athletic programs in much the way that colleges as a whole are certified. Certification would depend in large measure on "the comparison of student-athletes, by sport, with the rest of the student body in terms of admissions, academic progress and graduation."
But do college presidents truly want to clean up college sports? A meaningful certification system might necessitate a willingness to reshape college athletics to a degree that would not be acceptable to many trustees, alumni, legislators and students.
The Knight Commission report contains no indication that consideration was given to any of the following remedies, all of which have been suggested by tougher-minded reformers:
•Deny admission to athletes who are unqualified to do college-level work. This sounds elementary, but it could have an impact far beyond academe: It might even force the professional leagues to launch their own minor leagues and stop relying on the colleges as an inexpensive farm system.
•Eliminate athletic scholarships and base grants solely on financial need. This would not only slash one of an athletic department's biggest expenses, but would also shift the emphasis from attracting better athletes to attracting better students.