May 14, 2012

Discussion Panel on the Recommendations from the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Chair Elect Martha Hilley (music) explained that a panel had been asked to discuss the recommendations received from the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA), an alliance of faculty governance organizations from NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools, whose mission is to provide a faculty voice at the national level about issues involving intercollegiate sports. She introduced the panel, which was comprised of the following faculty members, all of whom have actively participated in important faculty service roles related to UT Austin’s athletics programs:

  • Professor Michael Clement (accounting) – current faculty representative to the Men’s Athletics Council
  • Professor Alba Ortiz (special education) – current faculty representative to the Men’s Athletics Council
  • Professor Thomas Palaima (classics) – past UT Austin representative to COIA

Chair Elect Hilley reminded Council members that Professor Edmund (Ted) Gordon (African and African Diaspora Studies), who is the current UT Austin representative to COIA and serves as a faculty representative to the Men’s Athletics Council, could not attend the Council meeting due to an important family event. She said Professor Clement had received a statement from Professor Gordon, which he would share with the Council during the discussion.

Chair Elect Hilley said the reason for the panel discussion was that COIA had requested a response from the UT Austin Faculty Council on the five recommendations it had disseminated to member institutions. She encouraged Council members to ask questions and comment on the following recommendations as the panel discussion occurred:

  1. COIA will strengthen its efforts to advocate for constructive responses to the growing financial and reputational risks that market-driven models of sports entertainment poses to US higher education and its traditional model of amateur sports.
  2. COIA should hold to its position in favor of the collegiate model, and call for changes to reverse the growth of commercialism in college sports that has prompted pay-for-play proposals.
  3. COIA should endorse focused exploration of Congressional approval for an antitrust exemption concerning college sports.
  4. COIA should maintain its policy of cooperation with the NCAA and support for the NCAA’s regulatory mission, while continuing to analyze and, where appropriate, criticize NCAA policies or implementation that prioritize the interests of sports programs over the academic mission of US higher education.
  5. COIA should advocate for policies that will maintain the membership of all current FBS football conferences within the NCAA, consistent with the collegiate model of college sports.

Professor Ortiz suggested that Professor Clement present Professor Gordon’s comments about the first resolution as a starting point. For this resolution, Professor Gordon wrote the following:

COIA is an increasingly important and influential organization that deserves our participation and support. Originally established with relatively short-term objectives, it has now become clear that there is long-term need for a faculty lead organization to intervene in the issues of collegiate athletics in this nation. COIA is moving to consolidate its activities and create an administrative structure that will ensure its long-term effectiveness. UT’s Faculty Council should strongly support COIA’s attempts to strengthen itself. UT’s Faculty Council should also support COIA’s recommendation #1.

Based on his three years of experience as the UT Austin representative to COIA and awareness of the numerous problems in intercollegiate athletics across the country, Professor Palaima agreed that COIA was an important mechanism. Although he fully supported Professor Gordon’s statement, he said he thought they both agreed that UT Austin needed to assume a larger role in downplaying the commercialization of athletics. He thought there needed to be increased faculty involvement in the oversight of budget, admissions process, student academic progress, and operations of athletics on campus, with an emphasis on the integration of the programs into the real life of the University. He noted the conspicuous absence of any representatives from the athletics department on the panel and reported the athletics programs had not responded to the invitation to comment on COIA’s proposals. He said the administration needed to seriously back the principles being emphasized by COIA, which he thought faculty members generally valued. Professor Ortiz said she did not find anything in the first resolution with which to disagree since the emphasis was on advocacy for constructive responses. She suggested that the Faculty Council create a body that could deliberate complex issues. She disagreed that the athletics department was completely missing in the panel discussion because faculty representatives on the Athletics Council could address some of the issues. Since COIA is faculty driven, she felt it was important for Faculty Council members to speak up about some of the more critical and controversial components of COIA’s recommendations, such as pay-for-play. However, she thought it was naïve to say that the University was not operating in a market-driven environment; instead, it was important for the faculty members to address and debate the boundaries of that market. Noting that Professor Gordon supported the first recommendation and the lack of questions and comments from Council members, Chair Elect Hilley asked if there was general agreement with the recommendation. There was basically no audible response from the Council so she moved on and read the second recommendation that favored the retention of the collegiate model and reversal of the increase in commercialism that has prompted the pay-for-play concept.

Professor Clement read Professor Gordon’s statement regarding the second recommendation as follows:

I participated in lengthy and heated discussions at the COIA meeting regarding pay-for-play initiatives. As far as I am concerned, the group that I participated in did not come to a firm conclusion one way or another on this issue. The COIA Board’s recommendation #2 therefore is surprising to me. The pay-for-play issue is an extremely complex one. In my opinion, the extreme class and racial inequity of a relatively small group of young and mostly disadvantaged black males serving as the basis for a multi-billion dollar sporting industry is very problematic and must be addressed. Providing players with multi-year scholarships and the ability to earn a wage for their work on campus, as other students do, is a small step in the direction of addressing this inequity. While I support the notion that COIA should work to reverse the growth of commercialization in collegiate athletics, I do not believe that they should start by penalizing the least powerful, our student athletes. Therefore, I do not support COIA’s recommendation #2.

Professor Palaima said he completely supported Professor Gordon’s opinion on this recommendation and added that he thought a racial component existed. He said the NCAA’s evaluation of student progress actually deters athletes from finishing their degrees in four years, which conflicts with the current emphasis on timely and efficient degree completion here at UT Austin. Given that student athletes are granted six years of eligibility, Professor Palaima said he had been a long-term advocate of providing athletes with six-year scholarships. He thought it was reasonable for student athletes to take legitimate half-year academic loads during their first four years at the University and then finish their last two years as regular students with full course loads. Professor Ortiz said she also could not support the second recommendation. She said testing was needed regarding the assumption that college athletics is all about amateurism, because she did not perceive that fans cared much about whether the players were amateurs or professionals. She totally agreed that multi-year scholarships would be helpful for student athletes and should be provided whether or not they were on a team. This would elevate the idea that academics was more important than playing their sport. She said she disagreed when criticisms were made about the legitimacy of the courses taken by student athletes. Having served on the men’s athletics council, she said she had seen first-hand, student-by-student, the courses taken and the progress being made. She indicated that an effort was made to identify students with academic problems and talked at length about appropriate responses and sources of help. She said she had observed that the students’ majors were legitimate and the courses taken were not “fluff courses.” Attention was needed to improve the progress and time-to-degree of football players, but she was unsure that a four-year degree was realistic for most students. She added that her opposition to the second resolution was based on the need for serious discussion about the market, support of students, scholarships, and adequate funds to pay for the costs of the student athletes’ degrees, whether or not they actually commit and participate in a sports program while here at UT Austin.

When Professor Clement asked if pay-for-play actually meant that players would receive a salary for participating in a sports program, Professor Ortiz said “yes,” and added that the institution would develop a process for determining how much salary the student athlete would receive. She said she could endorse this concept if the students received their pay for staying academically eligible as opposed to just playing in a sports program. Professor Palaima explained that pay-for-play was perceived as a deterrent for corruption or even the temptation for athletes to behave in ways that would result in NCAA penalties or sanctions, such athletes selling memorabilia or hanging out with individuals who might offer them illegal money.

Professor Palaima said Professor Ortiz appropriately corrected a misstatement he had made about the courses student athletes take. He said he intended to say that not adhering to the NCAA’s guideline that caps student involvement in sports at 20 hours per week made it difficult for student athletes to take academic course loads in a legitimate manner. The NCAA’s surveys indicate that athletes spend 43, 39, and 37 hours weekly in football, basketball, and baseball, respectively, which equates to a full time job as an athlete. Professor Palaima said, “It’s ridiculous to demand them to have four or five courses a semester” when they are working full-time jobs as athletes.

Professor Palaima said a pay-for-play amount of about $15,000/year per athlete was being discussed at places that have money. This was seen as an amount that would help make the athletes immune to other financial inducements and provide them with a sense that they were contributing to a financial endeavor rather than serving as slave laborers. Professor Ortiz said pay-for-play proposals normally include all athletes, which makes the notion unrealistic given that most athletic programs are operating at financial losses. She saw restructured scholarship programs as being a way to offer fair compensation for athletes’ educational costs, as well as setting a percentage of athletics’ revenue as earmarked for academic programs on campus. Professor Clement commented that he thought pay-for-play involved numerous challenges, especially regarding payment amounts, given that many universities would end up being considerably less competitive when trying to recruit athletes. Professor Palaima pointed out that most schools do not put constraints on the salaries offered to their coaching staffs or their facilities and at most 15-16 programs are currently profitable with the average cost to the academic side running about $9 million per institution.

Professor Alpert commented that he did not see how pay-for-play programs could support all sports, especially minor ones, but he agreed that athletes admitted on scholarships should only lose their support for disciplinary or drug-related problems and not for being injured. Professor Jon Olson (petroleum and geosystems engineering, 2012-14 Council member) said he was concerned about the majority of student athletes that do not go into professional sports and would like to see a financial program comparable to that provided scholars. He was unaware that long-term scholarships were not offered to athletes and agreed that scholarships should be renewed for injured athletes. He added that athletics provided a useful community connection, but student athletes should not be exploited for the benefit of the University.

Professor Palaima said a critical issue to avoid exploitation involved the fit of the individual athlete to the institution. This can exist when a separate admissions process is used for athletes that is considerably different than that used for the student body at large. Programs sometimes try to supplement with tutoring programs, but these are insufficient when the standards for admission greatly vary, and the athletes are putting in a full week of work on sports. After saying that he supported President Powers and had written a soon-to-be-published opinion piece to that effect for the Austin-American Statesman, Professor Palaima added, he was glad President Powers was present to hear the panel discussion because some aspects of the athletics program were, in his opinion, exploitive. Professor Ortiz cautioned that from her personal experience, most of the student athletes at UT Austin were in reality doing well. She agreed that football remained an issue, but basketball had shown remarkable improvement over the past few years. She also thought overemphasizing the lower SAT scores among some of the athletes was unwise given the racial diversity of the admitted students because the test scores were not good predictors of the capability to do well academically. She said the recruitment process was now more rigorous, and all sports had seen improvement in student performance over the past six years. Professor Palaima disagreed, saying the Washington Post and national sports writers reported serious academic issues for student athletes, and UT Austin had one of the lowest graduation rates almost every year for minority athletes in major sports when compared to other top 25 programs. When Professor Palaima referred to the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) measurement as “gimmicky,” Professor Ortiz said UT Austin was not responsible for “the gimmicky nature of the APR.” Professor Palaima agreed, but he explained that the APR could allow a student with a 2.0, who flunks during the last year at a program, to transfer out and still be considered a student in good standing.

Professor Benjamin Carrington (sociology, 2011-12 Council member) asked if the problems might be solved if the NCAA’s 20-hour per week cap on total (compulsory plus voluntary) athletic activity were enforced across the board? He also wondered if that might be an area where UT Austin could serve as a leader by announcing it would impose and follow the rule? Professor Clement said it was a good suggestion, but he was not sure how the voluntary aspect could be enforced, especially given the emphasis on competition and money in sports. In the current sports entertainment industry, Professor Palaima thought enforcement of the rule would decrease athletic performance quality among complying programs such that they would be greatly disadvantaged and their revenue from sports would be adversely impacted. Given the money-driven nature of the sports entertainment business, he thought the likelihood of this rule being widely followed was quite low. However, he agreed that such a change would be beneficial and help return sports to at least a semblance of amateurism.

Professor Clement said he thought life transformations occurred with a good deal of frequency through the athletics programs here on campus and, perhaps, with greater frequency than in other areas of the University. He said he had heard stories where athletes, who were first-generation college students in their families, have tremendous influence on their entire extended families after experiencing the benefits of education. When Chair Elect Hilley asked if anyone else wanted to speak in support of the second recommendation, no one from the audience came forward.

With regard to the third recommendation that COIA should explore congressional approval for an anti-trust exemption concerning college sports, Professor Clement read the following statement from Professor Gordon:

COIA has been in general a supporter of the NCAA, albeit often critical of its policies. Despite the NCAA’s immense power to regulate collegiate athletics, there are those inside and outside the organization who feel that it is not powerful enough, because of antitrust laws, in the area of economic regulation. COIA agrees and proposes that the organization should support congressional approval for an antitrust exemption for the NCAA. From my perspective, it is dangerous to set a precedent of Congressional interference in collegiate governance. Furthermore, student/athletes and their families are almost completely powerless in relation to the NCAA currently. Exemption from anti-trust laws would only exacerbate the often-arbitrary power of the NCAA in this regard. I do not support the COIA recommendation #3.

Professors Ortiz and Palaima both agreed with Professor Gordon’s opinion. Professor Jim Yates (educational administration and special education, 2011-12 Council member) said he thought the second and third recommendations were tied together, making it difficult not to be critical about one without being critical about the other. He felt it was important for faculty to discuss issues involving the power and influence driving sports, but he thought faculty members were not in a position to have much impact on the direction and outcomes.

Professor Clement read Professor Gordon’s statement concerning the fourth recommendation regarding the relationship between COIA and the NCAA:         

The NCAA was created to establish cooperative regulation of collegiate sports. Despite the fact that there are numerous problems with the way the organization has operated over the course of its existence, COIA feels, and I agree, the organization should continue its cooperation with the critical support of the NCAA. I agree with recommendation #4.

Professors Ortiz and Palaima again both agreed with Professor Gordon’s viewpoint. Professor Ortiz said it was important to recognize the lack of authority vested in COIA, which she said made it essential that the organization continue to work in collaborative relationship with the NCAA. Professor Palaima felt it was important for the Council to seriously pay attention to the issues that COIA brought to its member universities for the organization to have any worthwhile influence on college athletics. There were no additional comments from the audience on the fourth recommendation.

Professor Clement presented Professor Gordon’s statement on the last recommendation as follows:

COIA is concerned that some of the FBS football conferences will opt out of the NCAA. There are any number of reasons why this may take place. Though most are associated with the possibility of enhanced revenues outside of the regulatory structure of the NCAA, the possibility that this will be particularly enhanced if the NCAA pursues an exemption from antitrust laws. I agree with COIA that a collegiate model of sports will be damaged by the withdrawal of the FBS revenue sports programs from the NCAA. Therefore, I endorse COIA recommendation #5.

Professor Ortiz agreed with Professor Gordon’s position. Professor Palaima said he agreed to a certain extent, but he did not understand what it meant to advocate for policies to maintain the membership of all current FBS football conferences. Once major institutions become extremely large and financially influential in terms of television contracts, it is impossible to know what policies would keep them from going whatever direction they want to pursue. When no one from the audience had further comments, Chair Elect Hilley said she was surprised to learn that there was such a large number of FBS institutions, now totally 125.

Professor Clement read Professor Gordon’s final statement regarding the COIA recommendations as follows:

In closing, I reiterate the judgment made in my report to the UT Faculty Council that COIA is a valuable organization worthy of our support, particularly in its mission to support a collegiate model for sports and to maintain academically-based control of the athletic side of the University operation. However, I do not believe COIA is as involved as it should be in advocating for the welfare of student athletes or in assuring equity in athletics and access to our institutions. It should be that the UT Faculty Council’s recommendation to COIA that it enhances its efforts to do so more forcefully.  

Professor Palaima agreed that COIA was valuable because of its collaborations with the NCAA, the national organization of faculty athletic representatives, and the national organization of athletic advisors. Representatives from these organizations often come to the COIA meetings and provide useful and interesting viewpoints. However, these organizations have increasingly become dependent on athletics by establishing institutes for the study of sports, which he did not consider legitimate academic enterprises. He added that the problems within college athletics have been discussed for years with little change occurring. The Secretary of Education, head of the NCAA, and head of the Big Ten have all recommended that the faculty’s role in independently monitoring of athletics activities on campuses be increased. Professor Palaima said, UT Austin needs to follow this advice by establishing an independent faculty appointed committee to provide oversight and to look into admissions policies.

Professor Ortiz stated this had been done when the Faculty Council established the Student Life and Activities Committee after concerns were raised regarding the effectiveness of the faculty representatives on the University’s Intercollegiate Athletics Councils for Men and Women. Professor Palaima said he was glad to hear that this had been done. Professor Ortiz expressed concern over the surprisingly little dialogue that occurred in the Student Life and Activities Committee, and even in the Faculty Council, meetings when athletic matters were discussed, given the seriousness and complexity of the issues for student athletes and the University. She recommended that Professor Gordon be asked to convene a group comprised of members of the Student Life and Activities Committee and the two athletics councils to review the issues and develop recommendations regarding the growth of commercialization in athletics and the welfare of student athletes that the Faculty Council could then take to COIA. Professor Palaima agreed with the recommendation and suggested that concerns regarding these issues be prominently placed into the schedule of the Faculty Council. In the past, he said the COIA report has been shifted from one month to the next and the next and placed last on the agenda of the last meeting when Council attendance had dwindled due to the length of the meetings. He said he was very pleased to hear movement has been in a positive direction and recommended that the administration openly signal by its actions that these were important matters needing attention.

When Professor Palaima commented he still receives information from faculty members regarding situations where athletes are not attending classes or turning in work and essentially not being real students, Professor Ortiz suggested that he send these on to Professor Clement. Professor Clement asked if these reports were systematic or idiosyncratic. Professor Palaima said the structure of the APR system set up to maintain athletic eligibility was to blame because it only mandates that 92 hours of the 120 hours required to graduate be completed after four years. Professor Ortiz countered by saying that was just a system, but it did not describe the trajectory of the students. Professor Palaima again asked why the six-year graduation rate was so low among athletes on the UT Austin campus.

Chair Elect Hilley said she would send the transcript and body of thoughts expressed at the meeting to the COIA president on behalf of the Faculty Council. She said she greatly appreciated the members who stayed to hear the panel discussion and agreed that the faculty needed to become more actively involved in facilitating improvement in the academic side of the well being of student athletes.

Professor James Holcombe (chemistry and biochemistry, 2011-12 Council member) asked if the problems discussed involved mostly football, basketball, and, to a lesser extent, baseball or if other sports, such as golf and tennis, had the same problems? Professor Palaima responded that the women athletes have a very high graduation rate, but he thought the graduation rate was a problem among those playing golf. Professor Ortiz said there is variation, but she thought the issues pertained primarily to football, basketball, and baseball when programs were reviewed over a longer time frame. Professor Palaima added that those were the sports where commercialization had the greatest influence in terms of potential incentives for the participants.

Professors Palaima and Clement both agreed that Professor Gordon understood the issues and was the person best suited among the faculty to interface with athletics and facilitate improvements for the student athletes. Professor Palaima referred to Professor Gordon’s report as “marvelous,” and Professor Clement commented that Professor Gordon’s reappointment to the men’s athletics council was a bit of a surprise to him given the “really hard questions” Professor Gordon typically asks at the meetings.

Chair Elect Hilley thanked the panel members, and the audience responded with applause. Chair Friedman thanked the chair elect and members of the panel. 

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