With spending on big-time college sports continuing to escalate and TV networks lining up to break the bank, a group of university presidents and campus leaders says it's past time for more of that money to wind up in the classroom.
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Thursday released its latest call for a range of financial and academic reforms. Among its recommendations: NCAA schools should set aside at least 20 percent of the postseason money received from the football Bowl Championship Series for academic use.
The timing of the report, entitled Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, couldn't have been better.
Just this week, the Big 12 Conference staved off a Pac-10 raid that would have meant not only the league's demise but the likely creation of at least one 16-team megaconference based on the ability to attract lucrative television deals rather than regional links and historic rivalries.
For now, the Pac-10 will grow by just two teams (Colorado and Utah), with the Big Ten luring Nebraska from a leaner Big 12.
"This report is particularly timely given the commercially driven agenda of conference realignment," said William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and co-chairman of the Knight panel. There is every reason to believe that the current direction of big-time college sports is leading us to even greater imbalances in the fiscal priority for athletics over academics."
The 22-member commission, which includes current and former chancellors and presidents from Bowling Green, Florida, Georgetown, Georgia, Michigan, Southern Methodist and UCLA, knows it can't completely halt that train.
Instead, the panel wants athletic programs that are often flush with cash to lend a hand to the rest of campus -- particularly amid a historic recession that has led many schools to dramatically increase tuition while firing professors or turning away from admitting otherwise qualified students.
The report notes that from 2005 to 2008, athletics spending increased at more than twice the rate of academic spending at nearly all of the 103 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. On average, FBS schools spend more than six times as much on athletics per capita than on academics. And most schools are forced to tap general university funds to balance their athletics budgets.
The Knight panel also wants to limit participation in NCAA championships to schools where at least 50 percent of a team's athletes are on track to graduate -- an idea similar to one endorsed earlier this year by Education Secretary Arne Duncan but quickly shot down by several prominent basketball coaches.
Interim NCAA president Jim Isch said the NCAA and its members are "overwhelmingly in concert" with the Knight report but expressed reservations about several specific proposals, including the 50-percent graduation requirement.