College Trustees Need to Control Athletics, Commission Says

University trustees should review coaches’ contracts and learn the business of college sports to get a better grip on their athletic departments, according to a Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics report.

The boards that govern universities must set policy for sports programs in everything from academics to compliance with National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and make sure they are enforced, the report said.

“If boards do not act to ensure an appropriate balance between athletics and academics in our higher education institutions, policy makers or others will do it for us,” according to the commission, composed of 19 university and university system presidents, trustees, former athletes and journalists dedicated to reforming college sports.

The study was released during a Knight Commission meeting at a Washington, D.C., hotel on the same day that former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.

The project on board responsibilities was conducted during an eight-week period in the spring of 2012, just before a report by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh condemned Penn State administrators for not taking action quickly enough to stop Sandusky.

Awaiting Trial

Gary Schultz, a former Penn State vice president of finance, and Timothy Curley, the school’s former athletic director, are scheduled to be tried in January on charges they lied to a grand jury about a 2001 sex-abuse allegation against Sandusky and failed to report it.

The Freeh report said former Penn State President Graham Spanier and other university leaders “failed to report timely and sufficiently the incidents of child abuse against Sandusky to the Board of Trustees in 1998, 2001 and 2011.

‘‘It was, instead, a painful reminder that all boards need to be well informed and must clearly establish the appropriate role of athletics in relation to the core values and academic mission of their institutions,’’ the Knight Commission said today. ‘‘When the board fails to provide effective oversight or ask the questions that hold the president of the institution accountable, the consequences can be enormous.’’

Knight Authors

The authors of the Knight Commission study, John T. Casteen III, president emeritus at the University of Virginia, and Richard D. Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, interviewed 143 presidents, 15 university system heads, nine system board chairs and 25 board chairmen.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association responded to the report by commending the association for its effort to further integrate intercollegiate athletics within the overall academic enterprise.

The NCAA said noted that many of the association’s ‘‘recommendations regarding the NCAA are already under consideration by NCAA members and leaders. These include current efforts to strengthen enforcement and simplify rules by focusing on the shared values undergirding intercollegiate athletics.’’

President’s Control

Casteen said although most boards understand their responsibilities and do a good job, some have given the president too much control.

‘‘Some of the same institutional control principles seem to apply to the corporate world,’’ Casteen said. ‘‘Board cultures are one of the targets of Sarbanes-Oxley and also the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) reforms. It’s a consistent analogy.’’

According to the survey, 27 percent of university presidents don’t consult their boards on major policy issues coming before the athletic conference’s governing body; 14 percent said the president doesn’t approve the salaries of athletic director and coaches; and 26 percent said the board doesn’t have sufficient financial information on income and expenses for each revenue-generating sport.

Off-Focus

‘‘Powerful interests that benefit financially from big-time sports, as well as fans and booster clubs with emotional investments, can distort the clarity of mind required for effective governance,” the commission said in the report. “While we urge boards to delegate the administration of their sports programs to their chief executive, boards must still become aware of the issues and engage actively and appropriately in policy considerations.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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