Knight Commission CEO Amy Perko On Why The NCAA Must Adapt To Succeed

May 4th, 2017 | by Ronnie Burton Jr
Knight Commission CEO Amy Perko On Why The NCAA Must Adapt To Succeed
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Knight Commission

Within higher education, there are many groups who play an integral role in the shaping of policy as it pertains to college sports. None have been more influential than the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. Founded by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation this group for years has brought together influential leaders to help shape NCAA governance through the creation of innovative reports and thoughtful recommendations.

This Monday, May 1st members of the Knight Commission will be convening at the National Press Club in Washington DC for a public meeting to discuss multiple pressing issues in college athletics. Some of the topics include: “The Future of College Football: A Focus on Finances and Player Benefits and Protections” and “Assessing Leadership Diversity in Division I College Sports with a Focus on Football”.

Knight CommissionAmy Perko, (picture right) an NCAA Silver Anniversary Award winner and longtime athletics administrator, currently serves as Chief Executive Officer and primary spokesperson of the commission. A recognized leader in college athletics, she has served as an NCAA administrator and Associate Athletics Director at the University of Kansas. In addition, in 2001 she was named President of the NBA Development League’s Fayetteville Patriots. Prior to the meeting, I caught up with Amy to discuss agenda topics as well as her thoughts on pressing issues in athletics and the role of the Knight Commission in today’s landscape.

 

As the revenue in Division I college athletics has increased (mainly in the FBS), how has the Knight Commission been a voice to help align the highly commercialized business of college sports with the academic mission of institutions?

Perko: The Knight Commission has successfully pushed the NCAA to take several steps to ensure schools do a better job of making education paramount for college athletes. For example, the NCAA adopted our recommendation that teams had to be on track to graduate at least half of their players in order to be eligible for the postseason. The NCAA has also reduced athletic time commitments of athletes and revised its revenue distribution to include academic incentives for schools– two longtime Knight Commission goals.

With so much being focused on finances and player benefits within college football, what do you believe are the biggest challenges as athletic departments reconcile the fair value compensation of some Student Athletes (Football and Basketball) when it could mean the death of hundreds of non-revenue programs?

Perko: Nearly all college sports programs rely on institutional financial support to balance their budgets. Universities invest in these programs for the educational and development benefits for their students and for the social glue that sports provide to university communities. The Knight Commission’s objection to paying college football and basketball athletes a salary is not based on what institutions can afford; it is more fundamental. We simply believe that college athletes should be treated as students, and our main goal is to ensure that they receive the best educational experience possible. A college education is a game changer for life.

Evidence shows that there is a growing gap between Power-5 and Group of 5 institutions with football being a driving force. Recently the University of Idaho announced they would be dropping down one level and participating in the FCS. Do you think more institutions will follow suit as the cost of operating FBS football programs increases?

Perko: In my own view, we may be at the beginning of another structural evolution in college football. It’s clear that with more people dropping their cable subscriptions – and ESPN taking a big hit in viewers – the mega-contracts that drove some of the conference realignments in the past will not be sustainable.  Some schools may need to consider different competitive alliances to elevate regional rivalries, which would also decrease travel costs. There are some big schools like Alabama that will always be able to generate huge revenue, but for those at the margins, maintaining an FBS team in the current configuration could be a tall order.


Switching gears, back in September the NCAA created a diversity pledge urging university presidents to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” As an organization that focuses on policy and institutional integrity, how do you believe NCAA member schools can turn this pledge into practice with a focus on creating head coaching opportunities for minority football coaches?

Perko: We believe that when it comes to more opportunities for college football coaches, it’s the College Football Playoff that should step up. That’s why we are proposing that the College Football Playoff allocate one penny out of every dollar in revenue for programs that would help produce a more a diverse coaching pool. Had such a modest investment been in place last year, it would have generated $4.3 million for this effort.  We know the money is there as the same amount—$4.3 million—was paid in bonuses to the football coaches of only four schools for their teams’ participation in the 2016 CFP games.

According to Richard Lapchick’s Gender and Diversity Hiring Report Card published last November, for the 2016-17 academic year, 88.3 percent of FBS school presidents and 85.9 percent of athletics directors were white. What course of action needs to be taken to by university presidents to ensure minorities and women are getting opportunities in higher education leadership as well as athletics?

Perko: Most NCAA schools have signed on to a pledge to promote diversity and gender equity in college sports. This pledge emphasizes a commitment to “hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics to reflect the diversity” of the NCAA membership and our nation. To see this pledge fulfilled, there should be some measure of accountability to track progress and to celebrate progress that is made.

Moving forward, how do you see the role of the Knight Commission evolving as the landscape of college athletics continue to shift?

Perko: The college sports landscape is clearly changing, but the principles still hold true: the educational experience of college athletes and their health, safety and wellbeing must be paramount.  The mission of the university is to educate its students and to prepare them for life. Programs, conferences and the national associations and alliances must be operated with integrity and in alignment with that mission. We have supported efforts that align incentives with educational values and better ensure that the revenues being generated are being directed toward athletes’ education and their health and safety benefits and protections. Going forward, we are open to efforts that provide more resources for athletes’ continuing education, career development, and medical care.  There is also much work to be done to ensure greater financial accountability.

Ronnie Burton Jr About Ronnie Burton Jr
Ronnie Burton Jr., is an emerging professional within collegiate athletics and higher education. Prior to writing for CollegeAD Ronnie worked in administrative and coaching positions at California Lutheran University, Arizona State, and Michigan State. A 2015 graduate of Arizona State’s Masters in Sports Law and Business Program he looks to be an asset for organizations making decisions in the areas of regulation and revenue generation. A former college baseball player, Ronnie’s passions reside at the intersection of higher education and athletics.

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