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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

The National Collegiate Athletic Association: Academics vs. Athletics


Recently the NCAA has experienced a proliferation of rules violations perpetrated by NCAA Division I basketball coaches. This article will provide an overview of the NCAA’s structure within which such violations persist and a brief exploration into its system in which financial rewards are tied to winning. It is this pursuit of financial gain that has led to the erosion of the foundational educational motives of intercollegiate athletics and to consequential NCAA violations.


The NCAA is a voluntary association comprised of institutions that agree to abide by specific guidelines as a condition of membership. This includes the condition to conduct their athletic programs in a manner consistent with NCAA regulations. One of the key benefits of membership is a share of the NCAA’s net operating revenues.


The NCAA utilizes the institutional control model of governance. That is, the conferences (comprised of individual institutions) and the institutions themselves have day-to-day control over their own affairs. Thus, each conference has its own policies in place to enforce the regulations of the conference and the NCAA.

Upon discovering potential violations of NCAA regulations, an institution may conduct a self-investigation or request that the conference investigate. The commissioner of the conference has jurisdiction over both self and conference investigations and determines whether the matter should be presented before a conference committee for appropriate disposition. The conference committee, following a hearing on the matter, recommends appropriate disciplinary and/or remedial action from a list of NCAA sanctioned penalties (i.e., public reprimand, probation, loss of scholarships, etc.).


According to the NCAA’s 2002-03 proposed budget, total-operating revenues will top $400,000,000. From total operating revenues, the NCAA pays it’s operational expenses and expenses associated with its championships. As a result of the NCAA’s status as a not-for-profit unincorporated association, a vast majority of revenue remaining must be distributed to its member institutions. As Division I schools compete in the events that generate a great majority of the NCAA’s revenue, Division I schools will receive 70% of remaining revenues. Division II and Division III schools combined will receive 7%. It is also important to note, that distribution of revenues to Division I conferences is predicated upon the conference’s performance in the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament. For example, for fiscal years 1995-96 through 2001-02 the Big East Conference received Basketball Fund allocations totaling $39,937,177. Conversely, over the same period, Academic Enhancement Fund allocations totaled only $4,650,000. Thus, conferences, and by extension their institutions, reap huge financial rewards for athletic success while receiving meager subsidies for academics.


The NCAA budget is funded entirely through revenues generated by its athletic events, and therefore, it is clear that adequate funding must be allocated or reinvested in sports in order to perpetuate the NCAA’s existence. However, as illustrated by the figures in this article, the disparity between academic-related and sports-related allocations is so great that it has logically bred a culture where fundamental intercollegiate academic ideals take a back seat to winning, sometimes at all costs.