Ten years ago, the Knight Foundation convened its first Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, saying that the commission was concerned that athletic abuses threatened the very integrity of higher education. That original commission made numerous recommendations. Despite the fact that the commission had no formal power, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) endorsed nearly two-thirds of its specific recommendations after the report was released.
In June, a second Knight Commission, of which President Mary Sue Coleman was a member, concluded its study of intercollegiate athletics. Its report identifies major challenges but says academic institutions can still redeem both themselves and their athletic enterprises.
Parent Times asked Coleman and Bob Bowlsby, director of athletics, to comment on Iowas athletics in some of the areas of concern mentioned by the report.
In the 1980 decade, 57 of the 106 Division 1-A institutions had to be censured, sanctioned, or put on probation for major violations of NCAA rules. In the 1990s, 58 of 114 Division 1-A colleges and universities were penalizedso there has been no improvement nationally in a decade.
But that criticism doesnt apply at Iowa, Bowlsby says.
We are one of the very few institutions in the Big Ten that havent had major NCAA violations over the past 20 years, and obviously were proud of that, he says. That started with Bump Elliott (Iowa athletic director for 21 years) and Christine Grant (Iowa womens athletic director for 27 years), and we have embraced that level of integrity in the time Ive been here. I think we can be proud that weve had a lot of success, academically and athletically, without compromising our ethical principles and without breaching Big Ten and NCAA rules.
Bowlsby says the key is creating a culture of compliance and hiring people of high integrity who believe that the only way to do things is the right way.
We have a very good system here; we have a very good athletic director and great people here in athletics who are involved in helping students. We have a good Board in Control of Athletics, which is a faculty-staff group, she says, but then adds: I think we never can be smug about it. We never can say there are no problems here, why worry about it? There have been problems in the Big Ten. We do realize that institutions may be vulnerable. We need constant discussion of the issues. We need to say, This is important.
College Sports in Financial Arms Race
College and university sports have become big business. Television governs the way games are played. Coaches command salaries far higher than college presidents or top-ranked professorsand they get endorsement contracts from equipment manufacturers.
At the core of the problem is a prevailing money madness, the report says. These sports programs have created a universe parallel tobut outside the effective control ofthe institutions that house them. They answer not to the traditional standards of higher education but to the whims and pressures of the marketplace.
Bowlsby says, I dont think anyone has good ideas on how to unring the bell. It is a market-driven environment, and as much as I am troubled by the escalation in the cost of personnel and particularly head coaches salaries, the only thing that is more problematic for an institution than keeping pace is not keeping pace. You quickly become uncompetitive.
Seventy-five percent of the huge coaches compensation packages that make the headlines are radio and television contracts, endorsement contracts from sports equipment and apparel manufacturers, and other outside sources of income, he notes.
An NCAA study of Division I and II institutions shows that only 15 percent operate their athletics programs in the black. While revenues have been increasing at many institutions, costs increase more rapidly.
Bowlsby says Iowa athletics run in the black some years and marginally in the red other years.
We will probably run in the red this year by about $300,000 to $400,000 in a $34 million budget, he says. Some (of the shortfall) was paying off storm damage that we had a couple of years ago. Some was projects we felt we needed to do in this fiscal year. Some of it was football ticket sales that werent quite as good as we had hoped during the 2000 season. Next year we hope to make that up and perhaps run a small profit. As a general statement, we have been fiscally responsible over a long period of time.
The Non-Student Athlete
Many student-athletes participate in intercollegiate sports and still achieve high grades and academic honors. Other students play on varsity teams for four years but never graduate.
The most recent NCAA graduation rate report reveals that 48 percent of Division 1-A football players and 34 percent of mens basketball players at Division 1-A institutions earned degrees within six years of enrollment. The graduation rate for white football players was 55 percent, the lowest since the Student Right to Know Act mandated that such records be made public. Only 42 percent of black football players in Division 1-A graduate, according to the most recent figures.
At Iowa, graduation rates announced this year are the highest for many years, Bowlsby says. Overall, 73 percent of students who entered Iowa six years ago have left with a degree, and that includes 78 percent of the football team. In mens basketball, we have graduated 100 percent of those who entered six years ago and 83 percent of the womens basketball players. The overall graduation rate for minorities is in the 60s this year, which is almost twice the national average. We can take pride in that.
We have a good history of admitting students to the University because we believe they can be successful here, Coleman says. We dont have special rules for admitting athletes. Young people need to understand that when they come to the University, theyre coming for an education.
I love seeing them be able to develop their athletic talents, but if we dont take care of their education, prepare them for life, and help them get degrees, were not being true to our mission, thats all, she says.
During the commissions hearings, members became acquainted with President Colemans ability to go directly to the heart of an issue. In one instance, the deputy commissioner of a planned new basketball minor league for college-age players found that out when he testified before the commission. According to the Chronicle of Higher Educations Dec. 8, 2000 issue, Russ Granik told the commission members that the new league would include players age 20 or older, in order to avoid competing with the NCAA.
Coleman asked him, Why not take 18-year-olds? After all, she said, that would give athletes graduating from high school with no interest in a college education another option. Other commission members agreed, and Granik agreed it might be something to consider.
After the Report
After eight months of deliberations, fact-finding, and testimony, President Coleman and the 27 other commissioners say they believe that intercollegiate athletics must be preserved.
I really enjoyed serving on the commission, Coleman says. It was a pretty lengthy process and we listened to a lot of people who had a lot of opinions about high-profile intercollegiate athletics. The commission members believe that theres something very special about athletics in the context of colleges and universities, and its something that we want to preserve.
by Anne Tanner