College Football Needs New Governing Body: Watchdog (Corrected)

  • Proposal part of overhaul sought for college athletics model
  • NCAA would keep oversight of basketball, other college sports

(Revises first and fifth paragraph from Dec. 3 story to clarify recommended new body would only oversee Football Bowl Subdivision; adds NCAA response beginning in 15th paragraph.)

Major college football programs should be governed by a new entity, separate from the NCAA, a panel of higher education and athletic leaders recommended Thursday.

The proposal reflects the diverging interests of most Division I colleges and college football programs, which increasingly absorb vast sums of money, according to leaders of the academic watchdog Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

“The governance of NCAA Division I has not kept pace with the rapid commercial growth of college sports,” said Nancy Zimpher, a commission member and former chancellor of the State University of New York.

Congress has taken a growing interest in college athletics in recent years, driven in part by new state laws allowing athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness. However, college leaders could undertake a major reorganization of football governance without state or federal approval, members of the commission said.

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Phil Jurkovec, #5 of the Boston College Eagles, makes a pass against the Louisville Cardinals at Alumni Stadium on Nov. 28, 2020, in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

NCAA Structure

Under the commission’s proposal, a new entity would oversee the programs that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, and would be funded by College Football Playoff revenue, which exceeded $460 million in 2019. The NCAA would continue to govern non-FBS football programs — including those in Divisions II and III, and the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) — as well as all other college sports, including basketball, which generates the vast majority of revenue for other athletic programs.

The commission also recommended that both the NCAA and the new college football governing body adopt principles including a ban on “pay for play.” But it said athletes should be allowed to be compensated based on their name, image, and likeness, and should have “meaningful” representation in governing bodies.

The new governing body would be more responsible for college football, which is overseen by the NCAA and the College Football Playoff, said Knight Commission co-chair Carol Cartwright, a president emeritus of Kent State University and Bowling Green State University.

“Currently no single entity is responsible for all aspects of FBS football, diluting public accountability,” Cartwright said of Division I football programs.

Separating football would also benefit other college programs by allowing more scheduling flexibility and geographic alignment, reducing costs of excessive travel, the commission said.

Changes ‘Urgent’

Division I leaders surveyed by the commission before the recommendations were released preferred no clear solution to governance in college sports. A majority said big solutions were needed more than incremental change.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic put a hole in college sports budgets, many programs were hemorrhaging money because they spent beyond their means on coaching salaries and new facilities, said Arne Duncan, a commission co-chair and former U.S. secretary of education.

Forthcoming renegotiations over the College Football Playoff media contract also threaten to widen financial equities among college sports programs, he said.

“Governance reform is urgent, not a wish list item to consider sometime down the road,” Duncan said.

The commission’s next step on the proposal is a summit of college leaders representing Division I football programs to create a task force for developing the new governing body.

In a statement on its website, the NCAA did not specifically address the Knight Commission’s recommendation, but said the organization is discussing the long-term sustainability of collegiate athletics.

“These discussions are focused on promoting the education, health and safety and fair treatment of college athletes,” the statement said. “NCAA members within Division I have long sought to include a diverse representation of schools while supporting all student-athletes in similar ways.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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