MU may join athletics reform group

The faculty council will discuss participation in an athletics reform coalition today.
Thursday, June 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Today, the MU Faculty Council may take another step toward athletics reform on campus and nationwide.

At its afternoon meeting, the council is expected to discuss joining the Coalition On Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of faculty senates at Division 1-A schools working to develop athletics reform guidelines on a national level and on a local level for every registered institution.

The coalition works alongside the NCAA, which is investigating MU’s men’s basketball program concerning allegations that program members bought meals, provided transportation and had impermissible contact with recruits.

“We very much appreciate the coalition’s support,” said Erik Christianson, director of media relations for the NCAA. “We believe that the coalition has the best of intercollegiate athletics in mind.”

The Faculty Council’s leader, Gordon Christensen, has said the council is interested in strengthening oversight of the athletics department. He confirmed Monday that the council is expected to talk about possibly joining the coalition.

Currently, 36 faculty senates from schools around the country are registered members of the coalition, including four in the Big 12 conference: University of Colorado, University of Nebraska, Oklahoma State University and University of Texas.

“The coalition’s purpose is to articulate a broad national faculty voice in support of reform efforts to contribute ideas towards a successful long-term strategy for reform, and to work with other groups committed to ensuring that athletics enhances ... the academic mission,” according to a charter drafted by the coalition.

Chad Moeller, media relations director for MU’s athletic department, said the department would be supportive of the Faculty Council if it joined the COIA. Athletic Director Mike Alden has always “strived to have a good relationship with the faculty and administrators,” Moeller said. “But there’s always room for improvement.”

Bob Eno, the coalition’s co-chairman, said the group has two goals: “to promote athletics reforms on a national level that schools are unlikely to be able to accomplish individually and to develop policy guides based on shared experience (among schools) to help individual schools improve local governance of athletics.”

“The coalition’s effectiveness is based on the breadth of support and participation of its member senates, and on the network of alliances and relationships that it has developed over the past two years with groups such as the NCAA,” Eno said.

The group’s “framework for comprehensive athletics reform” addresses five issues:

1. Academic integrity

The coalition’s “framework” document says that many athletes, especially in football and men’s basketball programs, are so “academically under-prepared” and have such “heavy commitments to sports” that it decreases their chances of graduating.

“Students should not be enrolled (in athletics) if they do not have reasonable prospects of graduation,” the document says.

The coalition also supports the NCAA’s initiative to raise initial eligibility standards, announced in April, by strengthening core course requirements in athletes’ majors. The NCAA has proposed to increase the requirement to 16 completed core courses within five years of academic enrollment.

The coalition hopes that the increased requirement will uphold the same academic expectations for athletes as for non-athletes.

“At some schools, athletes are given preferential treatment to ensure continuing eligibility, either through academically unchallenging programs or differential grading practices,” the document says. “Such practices can only be addressed at the institutional level.”

The coalition said that faculty at all schools should be provided with data about athletes’ majors and academic performance to “allow faculty to determine there are no pressures to lower academic standards.”

2. Athlete welfare

The coalition supports the NCAA’s “20-hour rule,” which allows athletes to spend a maximum of 20 hours per week on in-season nonacademic athletics activities.

“Athletes often wish to devote more time to training individually, and this is their prerogative,” the coalition said, “but coaches and advisors should discourage it when it appears to interfere with academics.”

To lessen this interference, the coalition also wants to reduce the length of sports seasons.

“In recent years, seasons in many sports have grown in length and number of competitions,” the coalition said. “No further expansion should be adopted, and efforts should be made to reduce season schedules.”

The coalition also wants schools to consider lengthening the term of athletics scholarships beyond their current one-year renewable status. “No athlete should feel the need to shortchange academic commitment in order to retain scholarship support,” the group said.

3. Governance

The coalition proposes that there be an “Athletic Governance Committee” on every campus in the country, which “should be the chief policy-setting organ for athletics programs, and should review special admissions, major personnel decisions and reviews, and assessment of budgets and financial performance.”

Faculty senates, which the coalition would like to see be involved in the appointment of governance committees, should receive annual reports concerning academic performance of athletes, athletics programs’ budgets and NCAA infractions committed by athletics departments, the coalition said.

The coalition also wants each sports conference to create its own academic standards.

“The conference has its fullest effect when its members share regional identity, academic standards and goals, or long-standing common traditions,” the coalition said. “Lasting reform of college sports requires stable conference structures that represent academic rather than simply financial relationships.”

4. Financial issues

The coalition said there should be more “revenue-sharing” between athletic departments and other departments on campuses “to minimize revenue-driven incentives for winning.”

“Winning is the goal of athletes and coaches, and programs appropriately promote winning,” the coalition said. “However, to the degree that financial success is tied to winning, intercollegiate athletics cannot be healthy on the national level: not only do half of all competitors lose, but the emphasis on post-season tournaments and national championships ... increases the number of programs that fall short.”

Professional standards of college sports and the related costs should also be minimized, the coalition said. The expenses of professional equipment should be monitored, it said.

“Training for professional sports careers is not a goal of intercollegiate athletics, nor does it benefit the vast majority of college athletes,” the coalition said. “Higher education gains nothing from serving as a minor league for professional sports.”

5. Over-commercialization

“Televising games can deepen the loyalties of nationally dispersed alumni and raise public awareness of higher education,” the coalition noted. “However, the marketing of intercollegiate athletics impairs institutional control, and may undermine support for academics. It may link universities to products and corporate sponsors that present conflicts with institutional values.

“‘Name recognition’ and ‘fan loyalty’ based on televised sports has not been demonstrated to contribute to the academic mission, and is costly and unproductive for American higher education,” the coalition said.

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