Commentary- Athletics And Education
It wouldn’t be Wednesday if you didn’t get a little view from inside my head about issues surrounding Higher Education and major college athletics. This week, though, I’ve decided on a little outsourcing.
On Tuesday, two separate groups released findings regarding the state of affairs in our favorite distraction- College Sports. First up was a report from the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, a group that seeks to assist and support the folks who oversee Higher Educational endeavors on national campuses. Ohio State University and the Ohio State Foundation are both members, as is Penn State, who is the topic of the recent report. Following the mess in Happy Valley, AGB did a national review to see what ways other institutions were prepared to prevent similar situations (failure of Board oversight of athletics; inadequately articulated and reporting of child safety issues, among other problems). The report, which you can read here, makes some interesting observations. Most Universities surveyed were in good shape, having well established protocols regarding the supervision of athletics and evaluation of chief campus officials in regards to their duties and oversight of athletics. In another question, only 19 percent of respondents indicated that their athletic programs were financially self-sustaining, with over a quarter of those involved reporting that they (as a governing body) had access to the information necessary to assess the financial well being of their athletic program. Other data was indicative of the awareness that boards had regarding student academic improvement and NCAA guidelines for their programs. Three recommendations proposed following this data are as follows:
The TL;DR summary- Athletics is a big thing at Universities, and if the boards who supervise those institutions don’t have a full understanding of the ins-and-outs of this part of campus life, there are significant consequences. In other words: Don’t let Penn State happen to you.
The AGB report was independent, but was funded in part by the Knight Commission, who also released several findings and reports/recommendations today. The Commission, who’s mission is pretty interesting for those invested in the intersection between athletics and academics, also holds the following as descriptive of their work: Working to ensure that intercollegiate athletic programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities. You might know them best from some of their previous reports regarding graduation rates (the impetus for changes the NCAA recently made) and attempts to find a balance between athletic dollars and academic mission. These folks are either the “big thinkers” about this issue or the “people who are trying to kill college sports”, depending on your perspective.
Tuesday’s reports looked deeper at the escalation of athletic spending, particularly at the values attributed to the programmatic expansion of various programs, steps that some institutions had taken to reverse the “arms race” at their institutions, and an interesting overview of whether or not the current state of athletic economic growth is a model that can be sustained (Hint: Nope.). In each case, the Knight Commission continues to ask the larger questions- If athletic endeavors continue to drive the bus, as it were, in institutional investment and expenditures, at what point is the overall academic mission compromised in order to continue producing sporting opportunities and events- items that were initially seen as an ancillary element of the educational experience?
While this information might register as a “Duh!” for most readers, it is something to wrestle with particularly as fans of one of the largest athletic departments in the nation. Given that Ohio State has one of the largest alumni bases in the country, I wonder what the response of those folks would be to the University dropping football? Or, conversely, if the football program dropped the University… if Athletics continued to be self sustainable while the University languished?
That question came up for me in several conversations this week, and was reinforced by the research listed above. First, I continue to be intrigued by the state of Oregon- budget cuts, tuition raises, student fees on the rise as the state wrestles with fiscal responsibility, all the while the athletic program keeps being fed by Nike and other boosters… could this be the first football program without a University?
Second was a discussion that I had regarding Darren Everson’s article in the Wall Street Journal, which labeled Ohio State as “College football’s antihero”. In it, Everson writes the following,
This isn’t some warm, fuzzy, overcoming-the-odds story. Oh no: This is a football factory. Which is ineligible for the postseason. And which just had a player tweet that classes are “POINTLESS.” (His emphasis, not ours.) If any team ought to be elected the homecoming king of this cockeyed sport, it’s the scarlet and gray.
“A football factory”. Granted, that reinforces the legacy that the Buckeyes have of sending players to the professional ranks, but it also might highlight the cart edging out in front of the horse just a bit, if it’s not already there in the minds of many fans (not alumni) across the nation.
“But for Ohio State” is an amazing campaign and a great slogan for the growth and enrichment of the University; I’m excited to read and see how this continues to impact lives around the world. But I worry sometimes that, unless the University’s leadership continues to show the care and intentionality that it has thus far, the true message will be “But for Ohio State Football”.
Across The NCAA