Earlier this week, the New York Times Room for Debate forum asked the following questions:
“Fans are busy filling out their N.C.A.A. brackets this week, but for student-athletes, the madness is year-round. How can we once again emphasize the "collegiate" part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association? How can the Association, the member colleges and the sponsors of the men's basketball tournament look out for the interests of student-athletes?”
Advocating policy change to emphasize the "college" in college sports has been the mission of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for more than two decades. Two core principles in its most recent report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, are to treat college athletes first and foremost as students - not as professionals - and to reward practices that make educational values a top priority.
These principles are emphasized in the commission's long-standing policy recommendation that teams must be on track to graduate 50 percent of their players to qualify for the "March Madness" tournament or other championships.
Last fall, the N.C.A.A. took a promising step by adopting this threshold, which will be phased in over the next three years. According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the policy, if in place today, would have eliminated 13 men's basketball teams from this year's tournament.
To truly transform the system, the current financial incentives must change, and dollars must align with educational values. To do this, the Knight Commission recommends changing the way the N.C.A.A. distributes television revenue from the men's basketball tournament.
Our proposal would reduce the current amounts earned by winning basketball teams and instead, award a portion of this revenue to programs that graduate athletes and keep athletic expenses in check. For example, institutions would receive a financial reward if they were to maintain an appropriate athletics-to-academics spending ratio and also meet prescribed graduation rate benchmarks.
The Knight Commission urges leaders to consider this concept and other new ways to allocate escalating revenue from college sports. College presidents, conference commissioners and other leaders must ensure that this revenue is strengthening the educational missions of our universities and not undermining them with a win-at-all costs mentality.