‘Forward Motion’ Seen in Effort To Reform Collegiate Athletics

By Mark Pitsch — October 16, 1991 4 min read

In an influential report, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a blue-ribbon panel of educators, last March called for substantial reform of campus athletics programs, including stricter eligibility requirements and greater control over athletics programs by university and college presidents.

Last month, the commission’s copresidents-- William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, and the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame--convened a meeting of the panel to discuss the progress of reform efforts.

The commission pledged to issue a follow- up report next March, and warned against efforts to weaken the reforms proposed by the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

Staff Writer Mark Pitsch last week spoke with Mr. Friday about the commission’s efforts, and the impact of collegiate athletics reform on high schools.

Q. Assess the progress made in collegiate- athletics reform since your report, “Keeping Faith with the Student- Athlete,” was released.

A. We had a meeting of the Knight Commission in Washington just two weeks ago for that express purpose. There we had reports of what’s been going on with the National Association of Governing Boards, the [N.C.A.A.'s] Presidents’ Commission, and many of the other athletics groups, and it is accurate to say that there is considerable forward motion, and this will take specific form when the recommendations of the Presidents’ Commission are taken to the [N.C.A.A.] convention in ... January.

Q. Have you gotten a positive reaction from college presidents, athletics directors, and coaches?

A. Yes. By now I think the tally is some 70 to 80 college and university boards [that have signed onto the recommendations], and others have sent letters of affirmation. We have also communicated with about 900 institutions in the last several weeks with a video we have prepared, particularly for boards of trustees and regents so they can make their positions on the proposals.

But the important point here is [thatl there is a general feeling across the country that change has to occur, and we’re trying to make it as informed a process as we can. And we have listened to dozens and dozens of people to make sure we’re moving in a consensus pattern, and I think we are.

Q. What reactions have you gotten from high-school officials, such as teachers, coaches, and counselors?

A. It’s been a very interesting thing to observe, because once the Knight Commission got as visible as it did, we began to hear from the scholastic community. Just as a personal example, I’m meeting with the [North Carolina High School Athletics Association], because it wants to see that it does the kinds of things that are important to keep pace with what’s happening with the colleges and universities.

We heard about the school problems during the work of the commission, and we invited some principals to come and speak with us. They did, and it is a fact that there are intrusions [from athletics] into the scholastic programs, and the thoughtful people that are involved are taking step to correct them.

Q. The N.C.A.A. will consider amendments in January to its regulations that will tighten eligibility requirements. How will they affect college athletics?

A. What’s being proposed by the Presidents’ Commission is almost a direct reference to what happened in the Knight studies, and they are these: that we reexamine the admissions requirements so that athletes are treated like everybody else; that the evaluation of academic progress would occur term by term, and not once a year; that [athletes] enroll in a credible degree program, and not something patched together; and that there be a graduation rate over a five-year span that is comparable to other students.

Q. There is another movement to repeal reforms made last January.

A. I regret this, but at our meeting, the Knight Commission members decided unanimously through Father Hesburgh and me to advise the Council of Presidents that we will stand with them in every way and specifically to oppose every one of these movements because they do weaken, if not completely abolish, actions that were heretofore taken.

Q. What recommendations do you have for high-school counselors?

A. 1 would hope that they would find some way of getting in touch with athletics directors at college and universities. ... It’s very important, because one thing the Knight Commission learned is that one in every 100 young people who participate in college athletics ever makes it to the pros, in the sense of making a living from sport. That says that 99 others have to have another way of being gainfully employed, meaning that the burden is on the institution to make sure that their experience is a sustaining experience.

This is why it’s so important for the counselor and high-school adviser to know what is required and see to it that the students are prepared, because it is a very devastating experience for a young person to flunk out of school or be declared ineligible or for whatever reason to not have been prepared.

A version of this article appeared in the October 16, 1991 edition of Education Week

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