the BigAmateurism monologues

A series of events over the last 18 months—some unforeseeable—have created a perfect storm that will change college sports forever. The NCAA's bait an…
Mar 18th, 2021 | 57:13

Presidents in Charge?

In this episode, we look at the role of university presidents in BigAmateurism. Under the NCAA constitution (and in NCAA national office rhetoric), all roads—at the institutional, conference, and NCAA levels—lead to university presidents in the conduct and control of intercollegiate athletics. Where did this concept originate? And what assumptions underlie it? We answer these questions and more.
The entire model of college athletics is built on the foundation of presidential control. The NCAA constitution embeds the primacy of presidential leadership into its fundamental policy and purpose and requires presidential leadership of the NCAA’s two most important governing bodies: the NCAA Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors. The concept of presidential leadership and control of college athletics has its roots in early 20th-century reform initiatives, primarily the 1929 Carnegie Report. The Carnegie Report’s call for presidential control of college athletics arose from a values-based belief that commercialized, professionalized college sports (primarily football) were irreconcilably inconsistent with the intellectual and academic missions of American universities. This narrative was carried forward explicitly into the modern TV era of college sports in the Knight Commission’s 1991 report “Keeping Faith with the Student-Athlete” which advocated presidential leadership and control of college athletics at the university, conference, and NCAA levels. In the mid-1990s, the NCAA adopted the Knight Report model in a revamp of the NCAA governance structure which led to university presidents (heavily weighted towards big-time football interests) having ostensible control over NCAA governance. This emphasis on presidential control at the NCAA level coincided with the big-time football interests call for the elimination of one-school, one-vote voting. The presidential leadership/control model has done little to solve the issues identified by the Knight Commission and other external critics of commercialized, professionalized college sports yet there has been little NCAA introspection as to why that is the case. External commentators have offered several reasons for the failure of presidential leadership including that (1) it wasn’t pursued forcefully enough; (2) that, as a practical matter, presidents aren’t able to marshal cohesive support from institutional stakeholders to place meaningful limits on the perceived excesses of big-time college sports; and, (3) that university presidents—particularly at Power 5 schools—are hypocrites who have never been sincere in their efforts to reign in commercialized, professionalized college sports. Despite the failure of the presidential reform movement as a check on increasing commercialization and professionalization in college sports, powerful external decision-makers in the Perfect Storm—particularly Senators and federal judges—defer to the narratives promoted by university presidents. Resources for this Episode: NCAA Division I Manual, Const. Art. 1 (“Name, Purposes and Fundamental Policies”), sec. 1.2 (b) (“Purposes”); Const. Art. 2 (“Principles for Conduct of Intercollegiate Athletics”), sec. 2.1.1 (“The Principle of Institutional Control and Responsibility”); Const. Art. 6 (“Institutional Control”), sec. 6.1.1 (“President or Chancellor”) Carnegie Report on American College Athletics (1929) (subscription required to access) Knight Commission on College Athletics 1991 Report “Keeping Faith with the Student-Athlete” College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution of the Amateur Myth, Allen A. Sack and Ellen Staurowsky (1998, Preager) Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform, Ronald A. Smith (2011, UI Press) Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics, Ronald A. Smith (1988, Oxford Univ. Press) Games Colleges Play: Scandal and Reform in Intercollegiate Athletics, John R. Thelin (1994, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press) Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes, Walter Byers (1995)