Washington—As college governing boards face increasing scrutiny over a spate of scandals in big-time sports, a new report calls on board members to raise their game, operating at a higher level of awareness to help ensure integrity in athletics.
The report, presented here on Tuesday at a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, estimates that more than half of Division I colleges have not adopted comprehensive policies stipulating their boards’ responsibilities for sports. An additional quarter do not appear to have any policies describing the board’s role in athletics.
The vast majority of large institutions spell out the role of the president or chancellor in assuming responsibility for sports. But of the Division I colleges that conduct an annual assessment of the chief executive’s performance, many fail to clarify the campus leader’s accountability for athletics in that review, says the report, “Trust, Accountability, and Integrity: Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics,” which was produced by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
“Many boards do things right,” said John T. Casteen III, president emeritus of the University of Virginia and a co-author of the report. “On the other hand, they’re not the ones who end up on Page One.”
Boards have a fiduciary duty to protect institutions, but are sometimes kept in the dark when it comes to financial oversight of athletics, says the report, which includes interviews with 143 presidents, 15 university system heads, and dozens of board chairs.
More than one-quarter of the survey’s respondents reported that their board is not adequately informed about revenues and expenses for each revenue-generating sport.
Chief executives also sometimes fail to consult board members about major policy issues involving their conferences, and don’t always pass along details of NCAA problems.
“Athletics is not an island,” Casteen told commissioners. “Boards need to know when there are financial problems. … And board members need to know when there’s a major violation.”
Many trustees interviewed for the report expressed concern over their institution’s potential liability resulting from scandal, Casteen said in an interview following his presentation.
Those fears were exacerbated, he said, after the NCAA fined Penn State University $60-million for its role in failing to detect a serial child molester. Penn State is also facing a number of civil lawsuits stemming from the case.
“One of the fears of trustees is being put on the stand and asked to talk about how they were trained,” Casteen said. “It could be devastating for institutions that don’t have systematic training.”
Casteen says colleges need to do a better job of preparing their board members with annual workshops on compliance, NCAA rules, and other issues.
“Board members deserve better treatment,” he said. “They deserve the right to be better prepared to do their work.”