Knight Commission Proposes Broad Changes in NCAA Governance

Control over college sports should remain in the hands of college presidents, but the makeup of the NCAA’s Division I governing boards should be expanded to include former college athletes and public leaders, a new report says.

The report, which was produced by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics as part of an 18-month review of NCAA governance, was delivered on Tuesday to Mark Emmert, the association’s president, and members of its Division I Board of Directors.

Among other things, the Knight Commission proposes that a portion of the revenue from the new college-football playoff be used to reimburse the NCAA for services that allow major-college football to operate. And that money, the commission says, should be used to directly support athletes’ education.

Unlike other sports, big-time postseason football operates outside the NCAA’s jurisdiction, yet the association is responsible for overseeing such areas as player eligibility, rules compliance and enforcement, and research related to player safety and health.

The commission’s study, which was based on in-depth interviews with nearly 50 leaders in higher education and college sports, considered whether the NCAA or a new entity for college football should manage all aspects of the sport. Respondents showed little support for either change.

The report reveals “significant concerns” about the NCAA’s current governance process, suggesting that it fails to “effectively engage the entire Division I membership, contributing both to a lack of confidence and to a narrowness of perspectives.” But the commission did not reach a consensus on how to create a more-inclusive process.

The commission suggests allowing athletic directors, commissioners, and faculty members to be directly involved with the NCAA boards in either advisory or membership roles. Its proposed changes in board composition would answer concerns that conference representatives are expected to represent their conferences’ financial and competitive interests ahead of what may be best for college sports as a whole.

The independent study also explored whether members of the “Big Five” conferences and other wealthy institutions should move to a separate subdivision within the NCAA for football or all sports.

In recent weeks, several commissioners of those power conferences have sent strong signals indicating the likelihood of such a change. The Knight Commission stopped short of advocating a new classification, but agreed that a football-only subdivision merited further study.

Among other ideas, the report suggests:

  • Revising NCAA revenue distribution to ensure that academic incentives are appropriately embedded in the system.
  • Considering a new financial framework to encourage spending limits on various sports programs and incentives for maintaining those limits.
  • Considering different conference affiliations and championship formats for different sports, as a way to minimize time and travel burdens on athletes and improve their educational experiences.
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