Possible Addenda to the CIC Resolution on Intercollegiate Athletics 

In addition to the attached CIC Resolution on Intercollegiate Athletics that was approved unanimously, CIC Faculty leaders discussed but did not vote on the bulleted points given below.  It was suggested that these points be considered separately by the Faculty Senates of the CIC institutions for possible insertion in an augmented CIC Resolution, to be voted upon when the CIC Faculty leaders reconvene in Spring, 2002.  Following each bulleted point, there is a discussion of some of the relevant issues and possible impacts. 

·        Athletes whose academic profiles upon admission indicate that they face unusually strong challenges for academic success should not be eligible for varsity competition during their freshman year.  

This point is aligned with a measure currently under study by the Big Ten conference, which reportedly has a good chance of passage.  Some years ago freshmen were permitted only to compete on “freshman teams.”  There are valid arguments against this type of broad restriction.  Many freshman athletes, especially in lower-profile sports, where GPAs tend to run higher and the pressures of competition may be, on average, lower, are fully prepared to undertake intercollegiate competition as an extracurricular activity that enhances, rather than limits, their overall college success. 

The proposal under Big Ten consideration would establish a sliding scale that combines admissions elements such as high school class rank, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores to set minima for freshman eligibility.  This item would be consistent with such a plan, and endorse it as an example for other conferences to follow.  This is, however, an area where explicit policy is likely to run up against strong opposition from athletics departments, where it can have a direct impact on coaches’ abilities to field winning teams. 

An important aspect of this point is that it does not prohibit team membership and participation in varsity training, and perhaps this should be made explicit.  It is certainly the case that freshmen who are ineligible for varsity competition could still benefit from self-identification as team members and participation in all other aspects of team activities, and any policy excluding recruits from participation in training is likely to invite either violations or the risks associated with unsupervised training. 

A provision of this nature, for conferences that implement it with specific thresholds, would also act to encourage greater attention on academics at the high school level.  If high school athletes and their parents and coaches were aware that minimal GPA and, especially, standardized test scores could have the tangible consequence of interrupting a student’s eligibility to play after graduation, there may be greater awareness of the balance that has to exist in the athletic and academic aspects of being a prospective college athlete.  This is a positive aspect that a full ban on freshman eligibility would not possess. 

·        The term of athletics scholarships should be extended beyond one-year grants-in-aid so that students’ academic opportunities are not contingent on non-academic effort.  

This may be the most difficult measure to get right.  The current one-year grants-in-aid are designed to ensure the viability of athletic programs by giving coaches leeway to shift scholarship support away from under-performing or under-committed athletes.  Many students continue on scholarship from year to year routinely, but in fact programs do not have to notify students of their continuing status until July 1; some students do lose their support, although in certain conferences this is very uncommon.  Regardless of frequency, the dependence of continued financial academics support on the decisions of the athletics department diminishes the incentive for athletes to place academics first, and heightens the perception that scholarships are simply “pay for play.” 

The Knight Commission proposed that scholarships be awarded for five years, the time athletes normally require for graduation, presumably to underscore that scholarships are given to students, rather than to athletes. An argument against this would rest on the example of the student who accepts a five-year scholarship but then decides not to play sports – why should the athletics program be liable for those costs?  A counter-argument in favor would picture the case where that student decision stems from poor behavior on the part of a coach or other athletics department official. The proposal here takes a middle position by allowing some limit to a school’s commitment short of a full five-year grant, while ensuring students of more security than they now have.  It also reflects the fact that college scholarships are fundamentally academic, even if the merit basis is sports skills. An example of the way in which this balance might be realized could be to make athletics scholarships rolling two-year grants. 

According to NCAA rules, termination of a scholarship is subject to student appeal to a board independent of the athletic department.  The specific composition of appeal boards, procedures, and criteria for adjudication are left very vague, and it seems likely that any institution where abuse might be endemic would be unlikely to have procedures strong enough to curb them.  Another direction that could be taken in addition to lengthening the term of scholarships might be to strengthen the NCAA rules of appeal.  However, lengthening scholarship terms is a more fundamental way to address the problem, because it provides students a stronger standing guarantee that they will not unduly penalized for decisions they make that may increase their academic efforts at some expense to extracurricular athletics commitment. 

The underlying issue really is clarification of the basic justification of athletics scholarships.  These awards, unlike merit performance awards in a field such as music, are made for skills in an area that we do not identify as academic.  For example, unlike music coursework, intercollegiate sports competition earns no academic credit and does not constitute a degree program area.  Yet scholarships are academic in nature.  Part of the justification for scholarships lies in the values sports participation is believed to foster – teamwork, sportsmanship, discipline, and so on – which are seen as being features of character that will enhance academic performance and that the athlete will ultimately contribute to society.  But in reality, it would be hard to deny that the culture of campus varsity competition itself is a much more compelling motivation for awarding scholarships to athletes, and this means we need to be alert to ways in which abuses potentially undermine the academic values of institutions. 

The alternative reform direction on this issue is the professionalization of intercollegiate sports, which would effectively sever the athletic and academic missions. 

·        Every attempt should be made to minimize conflicts between athletics and regular academic schedules, and wherever possible sports seasons should be confined within a single academic term. 

In recent years, a number of sports have added competitive events outside of their traditional seasons.  When they do, it means that athletes need to travel to compete and to miss classes, the most academically disruptive aspect of sports participation.  It is a given that athletes will devote time to training year round, and it is also true that organized pre-season practices will regularly take place in the term prior to the traditional sports season.  But it is possible in many cases to limit to a single term the major disruptions that competition brings to athletes’ classwork.  This would not be true, however, for certain sports, such as basketball, without dramatic changes very unlikely to occur in the present environment.  For that reason, the proposed item has an escape clause in the phrase, “wherever possible,” a trade-off between the goals of the proposal and the hope that it may have some impact. 

·        Sharing of revenue, beyond costs, from post-season bowl and tournament events within conferences and divisions should be expanded as a way to maintain competitiveness and discourage over-reliance on winning for financial stability 

This is a very modest proposal; some conferences, including the Big Ten, have already instituted cost-sharing measures that include and go beyond this.  This item would endorse policies like those of the Big Ten, and establish the principle that the financial stakes of competitive success – a central engine of the “arms race” – should be limited.