Friday, April 24, 2009

NCAA: Making the Problem the Solution

By Richard Vedder

My friend, associate and sometime student Matt Denhart hit things on the head with his recent blog. But the question arises: why do colleges allow their academic integrity to be besmirched, athletes be so heavily exploited, etc.? The Athletic Cartel is the NCAA, so it is a big part of the problem. And even as gifted a leader as Myles Brand can only modestly get the NCAA to change its ways. Why?

The answer is simple, as suggested in a story in today's INSIDE HIGHER ED --the NCAA is controlled by athletic directors. The Faculty Representatives role in NCAA governance is at best modest. Each school gets one vote on the key decision making bodies --and that one rep is typically the athletic director.

What could help save college athletics from its own excesses? A good first step would be to have a single governing body that must be at least 51 percent faculty representatives. To be sure, this is no panacea, because some schools would pick a sports junkie faculty member who wants to be buddies with the AD, coaches and players. An alternative approach would be to have two bodies, like the House and Senate, with the House consisting primarily of faculty (say a minimum of 51 percent, perhaps 100 percent), and the Senate being consisted of university presidents. The Athletic Directors could have a purely advisory third group that would make recommendations to the two legislative bodies. The NCAA prez would be picked by the Senate.

This will not solve all the problems in the world. Some university presidents I have known are sports fanatics who would eliminate the English Department if the fund savings could buy the school's way into a top bowl game or Final Four in men's basketball. On average, however, faculty and university presidents understand and appreciate the core mission of universities better than the coaches and athletic directors who derive enormous wealth, prestige and fun from the current system.

Indeed, an intelligent Congress (an oxymoron if there ever was one) would pass legislation making the tax exempt status of gifts to athletic departments and on the profits from sporting activities contingent on turning control over sports to the people who make the university work --the faculty and top administration. Or how about this: no federal student loan money will go to any school whose representatives on NCAA governing bodies are not legitimate members of the faculty or the university president or provost.