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Knight Commission Urges Tough NCAA Reforms

Knight Commission Urges Tough NCAA Reforms
From left: Phil Martelli, Jay Bilas, Jon Fetterolf, Michael Siegel, Kylia Carter at the May 7, 2018 meeting of Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Photo: Lisa Helfert/Knight Commission

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The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics today urged university presidents to seize a rare moment of opportunity to reform not only men’s basketball but the NCAA organization itself to restore public faith in the governing body’s ability to oversee major revenue-producing college sports.

“The Commission on College Basketball rightly emphasized that ‘the NCAA administers what is effectively a public trust in the United States—athletic competition among college athletes,’” said Commission co-chair Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education. “But it’s an open question if the NCAA can restore public confidence in its ability to be stewards of big-money college sports. To do so, it will need to embrace far more sweeping and deep-seated reform than ever before.”

The Knight Commission called on the NCAA to make additional far-ranging changes to its governance beyond those recommended by the Commission on College Basketball, and to enact a series of strict requirements on college basketball coaches and their schools to bolster financial transparency, particularly for income received from shoe and apparel companies.

The Knight Commission suggested the NCAA shift its model from a membership association, with inherent conflicts of interest, to being more of a leadership organization capable of propelling real change. That shift requires more independent leadership of the NCAA, including independent directors who can play an objective role in safeguarding college athletics, especially for revenue sports.

The Commission on College Basketball, led by Condoleezza Rice, adopted a longstanding recommendation of the Knight Commission to add independent directors to the NCAA Board of Governors, the organization’s highest-ranking governing body. The Knight Commission also urged that the NCAA add at least six independent members to the Division I Board of Directors, because that board controls policies that shape the richest and most powerful college sports programs.

As a matter of principle, the Knight Commission recommended that independent directors should ultimately comprise majorities of both boards. Similarly, to underscore the importance of impartial oversight, the Commission expressed its support for Rice Commission recommendations to provide for an independent infractions and enforcement process in cases of serious violations.

At today’s spring meeting, Commission members endorsed many of the recommendations made by the panel led the Rice Commission, which the NCAA Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors accepted last week. Specifically, the Knight Commission expressed its support for changes that will create a healthier summer recruiting environment for youth basketball. It also supported the Rice Commission proposal to change the NBA draft eligibility rule, but cautioned that allowing students to turn pro without a high school diploma could have a corrosive effect on educational attainment.

“We urge university presidents to adopt the complementary reforms we are advancing as part of a more comprehensive package of measures,” said Knight Commission co-chair Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University.


The Knight Commission is calling on the NCAA, under the leadership of its university presidents, to adopt measures in three areas:

  1. Governance. As a first step, add at least six independent directors to the 24-member Division I Board of Directors, now comprised solely of institutional representatives, with an ultimate goal of a majority of independent directors.
  2. Integrity and Financial Transparency. Adopt new and more stringent approvals, terms of conditions, and financial disclosures for income that NCAA institutions and their employees—particularly coaches—receive from shoe, equipment, and apparel companies.
  3. Student-Athlete Education and Development. Develop minimal professional standards that NCAA coaches will be required to meet to ensure they are prepared for their roles as educators and leaders in the development of student-athletes.


The Rice Commission adopted a longstanding recommendation of the Knight Commission to add independent directors to the NCAA Board of Governors, the organization’s highest-ranking governing body.

“Adding independent directors will improve governance for all of college sports, not just college basketball,” said Knight Commission co-chair Carol Cartwright. “As we first suggested in 2013, we also want to see independent directors added to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. In the long run, we’d like to see independent directors comprise a majority of both boards. Too often, board members are expected to represent their conferences’ competitive and financial interests first, instead of what may be best for student-athletes and college sports as a whole.”

Integrity and Financial Transparency

The recent college basketball scandal demonstrated that transparency and new restrictions are needed for income obtained from shoe, equipment, and apparel companies, which have close ties to non-scholastic basketball teams (club/travel teams), recruiting events, and NCAA institutions.

The Rice Commission report recommended new financial requirements for non-scholastic basketball events attended by NCAA coaches, and called on shoe and apparel companies to “implement financial transparency and accountability with respect to their own investments in non-scholastic basketball.” The Knight Commission supports these measures but believes that standards must be set higher for NCAA schools and college coaches than for those not directly affiliated with the NCAA.

The Knight Commission urged the adoption of several measures to create more financial transparency, including:

  1. No university can give the right to any employee to have a contract with shoe, equipment, and apparel companies that are expressly or indirectly contingent on players wearing or using the companies’ equipment or products. Such contracts must be made only with the university.
  2. Adopting new restrictions and imposing financial disclosures on athletically-related outside income received by employees, and making a failure to comply with these new requirements subject to significant infractions penalties. See fact sheet below for specific details about these new proposed requirements.

Student-Athlete Education and Development

The Commission on College Basketball concluded that “NCAA schools are not doing enough to develop the next generation of coaches.”  The Knight Commission agrees with that conclusion and recommends the development of minimal professional standards that NCAA coaches must meet to ensure they are prepared for their roles in the education and development of student-athletes. Such standards could require the completion of different levels of coaching licenses or professional certificates to redress the profession’s lax—and in some cases non-existent—certification and licensure standards.

NCAA transfer rules

In a separate discussion related to NCAA transfer rules, the Knight Commission supported the NCAA’s efforts to eliminate the requirement that student-athletes must seek permission to transfer from their institution to receive an athletics scholarship from their second institution.  The change will allow student-athletes to notify their institutions of their intent to transfer so that their names can appear in a national database of transfer students eligible for recruitment.

Meeting discussion

Today’s meeting included panelists ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas and NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy, who discussed the Rice Commission report and the way forward for college basketball. Remy said that the NCAA is moving quickly to implement the Rice Commission’s recommendations, adding that his organization is committed to finding “the path to provide for independent directors as quickly as possible.”

Bilas criticized the Rice Commission for what he called its failure to address money in college basketball and commercialization.

“Amateurism should have thoroughly examined, not just accepted,” he said, adding that he didn’t see anything wrong with student-athletes sharing in the money being generated.

Knight Commission member David Robinson, the former San Antonio Spurs star who served on the Rice Commission, defended the value of college for student-athletes.

“The universities do bring value to these kids,” said Robinson, who also starred at the U.S. Naval Academy. “This should be a win-win situation for these kids,” he added. “For the vast majority of athletes, I do think this system can be a good system.”

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 to promote reforms that support and strengthen the educational mission of college sports. To preserve the Commission’s independence, the foundation continues to be its sole supporter, but does not control, or attempt to control, the Commission’s opinions or pronouncements. Over the years, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Commission’s recommendations, including the rule that requires teams to be on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The Commission provides financial data about Division I college sports to enhance financial transparency.

The Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.


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