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Faculty senates converge to leverage NCAA reform

Money talks. And nowhere is it talking louder than in collegiate athletics.

Granted, the rules addressing college athletes have become more stringent and rigorously enforced in the past several years, particularly in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. But that does not mean money and winning are not important issues.

Washington State University will host faculty senate leaders from about 25-30 Division 1 NCAA universities on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3, as they meet to discuss issues surrounding athletics and academics — specifically the commercialization of collegiate sports and its impact on budgets, values, competition, hiring, administrative decisions and diversity.

Ken Struckmeyer, chair of WSU’s Faculty Senate, volunteered to have WSU host the event last spring, noting that cooperative efforts among WSU’s athletics program, Faculty Senate and administration have made it a recognized leader in that realm.

Faculty senates unite
Traditionally, university faculty are portrayed as having a disdain for athletics and staying aloof from them. However, many faculty are aware of the importance of athletics to their institution — marketing, recruiting, alumni activity, fund raising. Some are athletic enthusiasts, and some have become actively involved in ensuring that athletic programs reflect appropriate values and standards for higher education.

In 2002, faculty senate representatives from 40 Division I universities nationwide banded together to form the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA, see www.math.umd.edu/~jmc/COIA/COIA-Home.html). This is the group that will gather here next month. Since then, COIA has been working fervently with the American Association of University Professors, the Association of Governing Boards (a national organization representing college and university trustees), the NCAA and other groups “to promote serious and comprehensive reform of intercollegiate sports.”

In April 2005, COIA members (in a 30-1 vote) approved a set of policies and proposals titled: Academic Integrity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Principles, Rules, and Best Practices (see www.math.umd.edu/~jmc/COIA/A.html). That document addresses such issues as academic standards and integrity, graduation rates, admissions, scholarships, advising and travel time.

“To have such unanimity in concern over academics is an amazing and a strong statement about the current situation,” said Struckmeyer.

And, don’t think that COIA is proposing limp policies with minor changes. The profs are taking athletics to task, and the NCAA is listening. For example, COIA wants the NCAA to make rules requiring athletic scholarships to be awarded on a year-by-year basis, with the presumption that they will be renewed for five years, or until graduation, whichever comes first. Universities would establish criteria allowing them to revoke a scholarship, with their chief academic officer’s approval.

“This is a significantly different paradigm than that which currently exists, and the concept deserves honest discussion (by the NCAA),” wrote Myles Brand, president of the NCAA. Brand is no stranger to academics, having been president of Indiana University, 1994-2002, and president of the University of Oregon, 1989-1994.

Using the bully pulpit
But, can faculty senates really expect to create change in the NCAA?

“They can have an effect,” asserted Ken Casavant, WSU’s faculty athletics representative, “because in a sense they have a bully pulpit on each of their campuses and can express concerns and issues. In addition, they can express those concerns nationally through NCAA.”

Brand agrees. In a letter to the NCAA earlier this year, he supported and welcomed faculty participation in the athletic reform effort: “The significance of faculty endorsement of academic reform cannot be overstated …. Faculty members own the curriculum — they have oversight of courses and majors, and they have the authority to cull out those that do not meet the academic rigors of the institutional mission. That is one of the reasons why the academic reforms currently in place will be successful — because faculty members will protect the integrity of the curriculum.”

A hot potato
COIA’s December meeting promises to be one hot potato.

The dilemma is that nearly every college wants a winning athletic program, because of all the benefits it brings.

“Look at Gonzaga’s entry into the national basketball championships,” said Struckmeyer. “The effect has been huge on the entire university — exposure, enrollment, fund raising. And look what it did for WSU when we went to the Rose Bowl.”

So, colleges and universities have engaged in an “arms race,” said Casavant, working aggressively to attract the best athletes and the best coaches — offering bigger coaching salaries and scholarships, indoor practice facilities, indoor stadiums, academic support and extravagant sports complexes. The bills for these can be staggering, but helping pay the price tag and fuel the race are almuni, businesses and athletic enthusiasts.

“The challenge is, how do universities, like WSU, compete with those, like USC and the UW, that are paying their coaches more than the governor or the university president?” said Struckmeyer. “And is that appropriate?

“How many faculty and students come here because we are in the Pac-10? I’d have to raise my hand on that one. But in order to compete in the Pac-10, what are we willing to do? What is it going to cost us? How are we going to pay for it?”

Coaches’ salaries
When it comes to the over- commercialization of college athletics, Casavant said, “one of the thorniest issues is the salaries of coaches. I don’t think anyone would disagree that at the national scene, we (universities) have overstepped that boundary, and they can easily point out the ridiculousness of what we are doing.”

Consider this. The University of Washington hired football coach Rick Neuheisel in 1999, for $800,000 a year, and its faculty expressed great concern. But just six years later, Tyrone Willingham, UW’s new football coach (currently 1-8 for the season), is pulling in $1.4 million a year — a 75 percent increase.

In comparison:
• Mark Emmert, president of the UW, with 23,462 faculty and staff, receives $762,000 in pay and benefits per year.
• The average CEO participating in a 2005 Seattle Times survey (with a median of 40 employees) earns $175,000.
• Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, $150,000.
• WSU football coach Bill Doba, $490,000

Other notable football coaching contracts: Philip Fulmer, Tennessee, $2.05 million; Jeff Tedford, University of California Berkeley, $1.5 million; Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M, $1.7 million; Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma, $2.1 million; and Bobby Bowden, Florida State, $2 million.

“In order to end the current arms race, you have to change the culture,” Casavant said. “An individual college cannot effect broad change by itself; you have to go through the entire NCAA to put a cap on this.

“It’s free enterprise, but it’s also a public university supported by taxpayer dollars. There also needs to be a balance between academics and athletics. We’re not pushing for the elimination of athletics — the faculty senates realize the impact and importance of a good athletic program — but they hope to affect some of the craziness that goes on right now.”

(For a COIA meeting agenda, go to the Faculty Senate webpage, http://facsen.wsu.edu.)

 

50 College faculty senates have voted to join COIA as of Aug. 2005, including (by conference):

* ACC Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest
* BIG-12 Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas
* BIG EAST,  Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida
* BIG TEN Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
* C-USA, East Carolina, Houston, Marshall, Southern Methodist, Southern, Mississippi
* MAC Eastern Michigan, Ohio University
* MT. WEST New Mexico, San Diego State, Texas Christian
* PAC-10, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, Washington State
* SEC, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
* SUN BELT, Arkansas State
* WAC, Cal State-Fresno, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico State, San Jose State  

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