Professor Palaima, UT’s COIA representative, gave his presentation to the Council using a detailed PowerPoint, which is attached in Appendix D in addition, he submitted his written annual report, which is attached in Appendix E. Because the PowerPoint and annual report are very comprehensive, readers should review the information presented in these two appendices.
Professor Palaima’s comments emphasized the negative financial impact of athletics on the majority of colleges and universities in the United States by citing the Knight Commission report that indicated that 85 percent of bowl championship series institutions lost money, almost $10 million on average, last year on the athletic programs. He said the majority of university and college presidents agree with the President Weber of San Jose State University, who spoke at the 2010 annual COIA meeting, that “athletics is in desperate need of reform.” However, he said the presidents claim they cannot do anything about the situation, which Professor Palaima said meant “they can do nothing that will not have consequences for their salaries, their careers, their comfort levels during their tenures as presidents, and the higher special interest that have placed them in their offices.” As a result, his experience on COIA had left him less optimistic that reform can really happen.
Professor Palaima illustrated his point with a recent development at Southern Methodist University (SMU), where the university president, who was co-chairing the Knight Commission and speaking out on the need for budgetary restraint in athletics, recently agreed to an extremely lucrative increase in the salary of the head football coach. The president said he would not have agreed if the expense was not sustainable based on the signed pledges and prepaid commitments of donors, who wanted SMU to regain its athletics stature. Professor Palaima added that today’s issue of the Daily Texan ran an article saying SMU had decided to shut down its academic press with little or no consultation of faculty or staff. He said the SMU press was one of the oldest in Texas and had been influential with thirty-one of its eighty-two original fiction titles sufficiently significant to merit coverage in the New York Times book review. He said the press only required $400,000 per year to operate, but apparently no donors could be convinced to help sustain its operations.
Professor Palaima also cited Dr. Gerald Gurney of the University of Oklahoma, who heads the Panel on Student-Athlete Welfare and is the president-elect of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (slide D-7). The panel noted problems occurring in athletics, particularly the reduction of admission standards for athletes when the general student bodies and academic offerings of institutions are being upgraded, the relationships between lower academic standards and character issues, and the disparity in support provided for athletes versus non-athletes in campus-provided services.
Professor Palaima reported that a national committee of advisers to athletics who are interested in academic quality of the programs cited a number of issues that needed attention, including efforts to block further Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR) gimmickry by the NCAA (slide D-8). Professor Palaima said at the time these measures were introduced the NCAA claimed that an APR score of 925 equated to a 50 percent graduation rate. Due to “tinkerings and exceptions and modifications,” according to Professor Palaima, 925 score actually translated into a 35 percent federal six-year graduation rate. He said he noticed that four or five athletes this past year had transferred from UT Austin to other programs for various reasons and explained that such transfers receive no penalty and can actually benefit UT’s APR, regardless of what happens to these students later. He said the national committee had raised concerns about NCAA rules contributing to these types of gimmickry. Professor Palaima described the NCAA as “an aider and abettor of the gross commercialization, the television contracts, the elimination of admission standards, and the adoption of a gimmick to try to assess what is going on at these programs.” He encouraged Council members to review the additional background and information pertaining to problems and needs for academic and financial reforms in college athletics that he had summarized in some of the PowerPoint slides he had not discussed due to time constraints (slides D-8 through D-12).
Regarding character problems with some student athletes, Professor Palaima quoted the U.S. Secretary of Education as saying, “When the average arrests per year are higher than the team’s GPA, that’s a challenge.” Professor Palaima pointed out that police had apprehended six UT Austin players in slightly more than ten months during this past year, which was more than double the team’s GPA and the secretary’s warning indicator, but he added that he had “heard not a peep here locally from the administration” about this matter.
Professor Palaima emphasized he was just following Willie Nelson’s law of life from the U.S. Air Force to “police your own area,” and Professor Palaima pointed out that COIA was the area he had been assigned. Noting the critical nature of many of his observations, Professor Palaima acknowledged support he had received from the UT administration as the COIA representative by saying, “To its credit, the president’s office has supported me in getting knowledgeable about these matters.” After noting that institution presidents and public figures often say faculty members need to speak up regarding what is happening in athletics, he asked “What does this mean?” when the faculty’s role has been marginalized and is at best only advisory.
Professor Palaima reviewing the situation at the University of California at Berkeley, where he said the athletics department ran up $31.4 million in debt in 2007 that had to be paid from the academic side of the budget (slide D-13). The athletic director claimed the money would be made up when the athletic program returned to national prominence. Professor Palaima said the situation had become so dire at Berkeley that faculty and staff were being furloughed without pay but not the coaches; athletic losses were running approximately $12.2 million per year, and a tuition increase of 30 percent was proposed. As a result, the Faculty Senate passed an “academics first resolution,” which according to Professor Palaima “crumbled under various kinds of pressure.” The Faculty Senate asked the COIA membership of fifty-six representative institutions and the Drake Group to jointly support a model academics first resolution (slides D-14 and D-15), but the resolution failed. Professor Palaima said the major element of the proposed resolution was that committees or boards comprised of voting faculty representatives be established and authorized to have true oversight powers to promote athletic decisions that coincide with the academic mission of universities. He said that, until this restructuring occurs, the “current madness that even the presidents recognize but will do nothing about is going to keep continuing.” He added that allowing the existence of “gimmick accounting methods that are used to siphon off almost $10 million a year from the academic missions of their institutions is really a national nightmare.”