It’s a sad story.
The question of who is running our universities and colleges was answered fairly clearly earlier this week by two news reports from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Miami.
One report told of a survey of presidents and chancellors at “top level” NCAA schools. These executives said they wanted “serious changes” in policies related to intercollegiate sports BUT they “don’t see themselves as the force for change needed, nor have they identified an alternative force they believe could be effective … beyond limited actions they can take on their own campuses.”
The co-chairman of the Knight Commission, William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland, said the presidents say they are powerless on an individual basis to make the changes that need to be made. He called the findings of the survey “really eye-opening and quite troubling.” He said the continuing increase in spending is “indefensible and a basically unsustainable situation.”
In follow-up interviews to the survey, the presidents and chancellors said athletic departments’ reliance on outside income such as large TV contracts “have diminished presidents’ authority over athletics and their ability to influence reform.”
According to the Knight Commission report, more than half of the presidents and chancellors said that, as the use of outside income sources to pay coaches has increased, “their control over these salaries has decreased.”
The report said 85 percent of the presidents believe salaries for football and basketball coaches are “excessive in the context of higher education” and “are seen as the greatest impediment to sustainability” of athletic programs.
The second news report told of the desire of major college athletic directors to initiate cost-cutting measures that would “touch every sport, including football.”
The athletic directors outlined a seven-part plan to reduce costs that then was presented to Knight Commission members by Dutch Baughman, executive director of the 1A Athletic Directors’ Association.
Changes suggested by the athletic directors included limiting the number of players on travel squads, cutting “non-traditional” playing seasons such as out-of-season exhibition games in some sports, eliminating foreign team travel, eliminating sport-specific administrative personnel, eliminating off-campus housing before home games and reducing the number of regular season contests, although this would not include football.
All of this sounds good, but the athletic directors acknowledged it would be difficult to implement such changes. The Big 10 Conference commissioner, Jim Delany, called cutting costs at a national or conference level “a contact sport.”
He said, “Unless you are ready to deal with power coaches, boosters, board members and the public — we’re talking about in a conflict-rich environment — don’t take it on.” He added, “It’s easier to generate revenue than to cut costs. I’m being honest with you.”
The college presidents and chancellors, along with the athletic directors, acknowledge the growing “arms race” among universities to field winning athletic programs has reached dangerous levels. The athletic directors said they know they face a dangerous situation, but the Big 10 commissioner said it is easier to raise more money to pay excessive coaches’ salaries and build massive new athletic facilities than it is to cut costs.
Again, it’s a sad story. Those engaged in the out-of-control situation say they know it is a problem but someone else is going to have to solve it. Someone else, not the coaches, athletic directors, chancellors or presidents. Someone else.
What this says is that sports — the dollars going to sports and those receiving those dollars — are in control of these universities. If coaches, athletic directors, presidents, chancellors and conference commissioners can’t come up with the answers, it’s a sure bet neither can, nor will, the regents, curators or trustees of these schools.
What is an incoming chancellor such as Kansas University’s Bernadette Gray-Little expected to do? Spending at the KU athletic department is tremendous: football and basketball coaches are in the multimillion-dollar range, the athletic director’s salary dwarfs the chancellor’s salary, and plans call for future spending to make the university’s athletic plant one of the nation’s finest.
Plans call for a large “Gridiron Club” to be added to the east side of Memorial Stadium, and the university (athletic department) is asking Lawrence city officials to realign the intersection at 11th and Mississippi streets to make it easier for those paying big dollars to park and access the new club.
Where does it stop, and how is this affecting giving for the universities’ academic and research programs?
Many of those characterized by the Knight Commission as power coaches, along with boosters, board members, the public and athletic directors themselves are at the center of the storm. The almighty dollar calls the shots these days, whether it is for new facilities, salaries or even the ability to buy prime seats at the football or basketball games.
When will this madness end? When will the public, state legislators and some fearless chancellors or presidents say it must be stopped and then take action to show their concern is far greater than just nice-sounding words?