University President Bob Bruininks took a cue from Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush in hopes to end the intercollegiate athletics “arms race” through legislation and diplomacy.
Bruininks begins his four-year term as representative for the Big Ten conference on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors at a meeting April 26.
The board, comprising of 18 presidents and chancellors from universities that compete in Division I athletics, is the final authority on athletic policies for schools in the division.
NCAA Div. I Board Structure
-The 11 Div. I-A athletic conferences, including the Big Ten, have permanent seats on the committee.
-The remaining seven seats are filled by a representative from the remaining 20 conferences.
-Presidents and chancellors serve four-year terms.
Big Ten presidents and chancellors appointed Bruininks to the position at an annual December meeting.
Richard Weinberg, a faculty representative to the athletics department and a former member of a number of regional and national collegiate athletic committees, said he thinks Bruininks was appointed because of the value he places on athletics and academics.
“I think that the fact that Bob Bruininks was selected among the presidents of the Big Ten indicates their appreciation of his ability to carry the torch for what intercollegiate athletics is and what it should be about,” he said.
NCAA legislation goes through the board of directors, said David Berst, vice president for NCAA Division I athletics.
“There are almost 100 committees and well over 1,000 representatives that provide input,” he said. “It all boils down to the votes of those 18 individuals at the end.”
Berst said the president will weigh in on issues like banning text messaging in athletic recruiting and the question of whether basketball players should be allowed to participate in NBA tryouts.
Bruininks said he looks forward to addressing a number of issues facing student-athletes, universities and their athletics departments.
“One of my key concerns will be the academic issues related to student learning, academic progress and graduation,” he said. “We need to do a much better job in ensuring that our students actually graduate when they come as Division I student-athletes.”
Bruininks said the high and rising costs of maintaining intercollegiate athletics programs also worry him.
“We ought to be able to compete athletically without paying somebody $3 (million) to $4 million a year to coach a football or basketball team,” he said. “This is sort of an arms race in athletics.”
He said the multimillion dollar price tag for recent shake-ups in the athletics department at the University was large, but he doesn’t see it as uncommon.
“No one really likes to pay excessively high salaries and no one really likes to buy out long-term contracts, but that is pretty typical of what is happening nationally,” Bruininks said. “What has happened here is not excessive in relationship to these national trends.”
James Shulman, co-author of “The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values” said Bruininks’ spending concerns are valid.
“In terms of where it’s all going, the arms race metaphor is a good one,” he said. “Except for one limitation, which is that arms races usually end.”
Shulman said he feels the competition to create better, stronger and faster collegiate athletic teams represents a never-ending problem.
“The thing that happens with some of these models is that everyone ratchets up the intensity of something and no one gains because everyone keeps up with them,” he said.