NCAA Withdraws Financial Support for Its Scholarly Colloquium

The NCAA on Monday pulled the plug on its Scholarly Colloquium, canceling financial support for future academic conferences and announcing plans to wind down its investment in the forum’s scholarly journal, following a sometimes-contentious six-year run.

The news—delivered by James L. Isch, the NCAA’s chief operating officer—came during a meeting of the colloquium’s Executive Board on Monday night, just hours before this year’s colloquium was set to begin, on Tuesday morning.

Citing poor attendance at the annual conference, a lack of profitability of the journal, and a failure to influence public policy, Mr. Isch said the NCAA planned to redirect its investment into “targeted research” that its member colleges wanted, according to academic leaders present at the meeting.

Scholars saw the move as a pretext for NCAA officials’ objections to the critical examination of intercollegiate athletics.

“Anything that is critical of the organization, they just can’t deal with it,” David K. Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University and chair of the colloquium’s Executive Board, said in an interview with The Chronicle late Monday night. “They have no idea or sense about academic freedom at all.”

Over the past six years, Mr. Isch told the colloquium’s board, the NCAA has spent $1.2-million on the conference and its associated scholarly publication, the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport. Just 40 people registered for this year’s colloquium, Mr. Isch said.

Colloquium board members contested those numbers, saying the NCAA reported spending about $80,000 on last year’s conference and journal. And some years, the event attracted hundreds of attendees.

From its beginning, the colloquium was never viewed as a moneymaking proposition, said Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sport management at Drexel University and the program director for this year’s colloquium.

“This was not intended to be a profit center,” she said in an interview on Monday night. And academic journals, especially young ones like the Journal, often take years to become profitable.

“We believe the real issue,” she said, “is that the NCAA took exception to research that criticized the NCAA—not the integrity of that research, or whether that research was rigorous or led to logical conclusions—but the simple fact that some research presented was not a compliment to the NCAA.

“To withdraw funding so expressly on the basis of the fact that they didn’t like some of what researchers were looking at and concluding is really problematic,” she added.

The NCAA could not be reached for comment late Monday night. But in recent months, two of its top officials gave clues that the association might withdraw support over ideological differences.

In a November 7 e-mail that Mr. Wiggins sent to his board, he said that several top NCAA administrators apparently were concerned that the last couple of colloquia had “primarily included ideologues intent on criticizing the NCAA.” As a result, one top NCAA leader told him, the colloquium “runs the risk of no longer being funded,” Mr. Wiggins wrote.

Mr. Wiggins based his concerns on two “rather extensive conversations” with Wallace I. Renfro, the NCAA’s top policy adviser, he said in the e-mail.

In an interview with The Chronicle in December, Mr. Renfro said that in those conversations he was speaking for himself, not the association, and that he hoped the colloquium would continue as a platform where multiple views were presented.

Instead, the colloquium will end its run on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the NCAA said it would provide financing for two additional issues of the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport. After that, Mr. Wiggins said, perhaps another publisher will keep it alive.

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