The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has called on the NCAA to expand the boards that oversee Division I sports programs to include former athletes and public officials, in order to overcome a loss of confidence in its supervision of college athletics.
“The fragmented oversight for the highest level of college football, and for the billions of dollars in revenue it produces, was a key element in this examination,” according to a new report the commission gave Thursday to National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert.
The report found “a general loss of confidence in the NCAA governance process” among those interviewed, and added that the commission thinks the public is losing trust in the system that oversees college athletics, as well. The Knight report was based, in part, on interviews with nearly 50 higher education and sports leaders, as well comments from conference commissioners, athletics directors and others.
On the same day that the NCAA received the report, it also made news because of a controversy over sales of player jerseys on its website.
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The NCAA had said that jerseys and the likenesses of college athletes that appear in videos for sale on its website weren’t connected to individual players. But ESPN commentator and Charlotte attorney Jay Bilas, a former Duke University basketball player, tweeted Tuesday that he’d typed in “Johnny Manziel,” the current Heisman Trophy winner, in the search bar of the NCAA shop page and had come up with four replica jerseys with the Texas A&M quarterback’s No. 2 on them.
Bilas tweeted that he’d gotten similar results with other players. The issue relates to an ongoing debate about whether amateur college athletes should be able to earn income from the sales of their likenesses, and if not, why should the NCAA be permitted to take advantage of that? Within hours of his tweets, the NCAA removed the search function from the site.
In his first comments on the issue, Emmert said Thursday in a conference call with reporters that the NCAA would stop the sales.
“In the national office we certainly recognize why that could be seen as hypocritical,” he said. “And I think the business of having the NCAA sell those kinds of goods is a mistake and we’re going to exit that business immediately.”
The Knight report recommended that the NCAA receive some of the revenue from the major-college football playoff, but use it only to “support athletes’ educational experiences.” Currently the revenue is divided unevenly among the college football conferences, with the more powerful conferences earning more.
The commission also said more study should be given to the possibility of a new NCAA subdivision for football only, for schools in the five major college sports conferences.
“The commission’s study revealed broad agreement that college sports provide tremendous benefits to our universities and to college athletes,” the report said. “However, nearly all respondents expressed serious concern that the quest for revenue in Division I is undermining academic and institutional ideals.”
The commission found “substantial support” among respondents for the current system of university presidents wielding majority control on the NCAA executive committee and the Division I board of directors.
That view was at odds with a recommendation by former University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp. Speaking at a panel discussion in April, Thorp said college chancellors and presidents should take responsibility for all aspects of a university, including its athletics programs, but he called for an end to presidential control over athletics.
He said presidents and chancellors lacked the necessary experience and that the rest of the academic administration tended to “check out” if a chancellor or president was the only academic administrator accountable for athletics.
Most of the respondents said they thought the NCAA boards should be opened up to include independent directors, such as former college athletes, public leaders or others with the necessary expertise. The commission recommended that college sports commissioners, athletics directors and faculty be involved as well, as board members or advisers.
One of the weaknesses of the current governing setup, the report said, “is that board members are expected to represent their conferences’ competitive and financial interests first, instead of what may be best for college sports as a whole.”