In the early days of collegiate athletics, coaching staffs were largely comprised of faculty members.
But a separation grew between athletics departments and universities during nearly a century’s worth of competition, sponsorships and television contracts.
A survey conducted by Janet Lawrence, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s center for postsecondary and higher education, illustrates faculty perceptions of collegiate athletics.
Nearly half of all faculty members surveyed said administrators make decisions about collegiate athletics with little to no consultation from faculty members.
Despite the fact that 78 percent of those surveyed are involved in faculty governance, another 31 percent said they didn’t know if administrators consulted faculty on athletics decisions.
The largest faculty survey on intercollegiate athletics ever conducted, its findings were discussed Monday at a summit in Washington, D.C. held by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“There are a lot of anecdotes and faculty has been stereotyped into a certain category,” Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission said. “If we’re going to have this national conversation about the faculty role, there really needed to be data to assess what are faculty perceptions.”
In the past, proposed academic reforms have been “watered down,” Perko said, but the upcoming removal of a statistical adjustment in NCAA Academic Progress Rates could subject athletics departments – including the University’s – to NCAA penalties.
“Next year is the time where the rubber will meet the road, in terms of more penalties are going to be handed out,” she said. “As a result, more pushback will be given to water it down.”
Aside from discussion of academic reforms, two suggestions were made to faculty nationwide at the summit, Perko said.
First, for faculty leadership to communicate issues to other members and make sure they are communicating with athletics officials and administrators.
At the University, the Faculty Academic Oversight Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Advisory Committee on Athletics, both monitor athletics at the University.
While the FAOCIA deals mainly with academic issues involving the athletics department, the ACA advises University administrators on other matters within the department.
Doug Hartmann, associate professor of sociology and chairman of the ACA also serves on the FAOCIA.
“The patterns you see in that survey would be the same kind of things, if you surveyed just our faculty, that you’d probably see,” he said. “What I’m not sure about though is that faculty are that upset about it, or care all that much.”
University faculty members are largely resigned to the state of athletics on campus and are apathetic because they are unsure of how much can change, Hartmann said.
Despite the apathy, Hartmann said ultimately the goal should be to decide how athletics fits into a university’s overall academic mission, as conflicting demands can make a student-athlete’s life “very structured and disciplined.”
“I am really sympathetic to the situation of a student-athlete,” he said. “They’re the only nexus where these two monsters, that are so distinct, come together.”
The attention paid to student-athletes can make the general student body jealous, Hartmann said, but with the time demands of collegiate athletics, officials have a responsibility to help them.
While athletics officials are “attentive,” to academic needs, Hartmann said, it’s not always “student-centered.”
“It’s keeping them eligible or helping them do well so they can continue to compete,” he said. “That’s not quite right.”
Athletics officials utilize the McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes to assist in academics, but employs checks to maintain the legitimacy of the program.
Mark Nelson, director of the McNamara Academic Center, reports to the University, not the athletics department and serves as a nonvoting member on both oversight committees.
“I feel (that’s) healthy and should be a model for other schools,” he said. “The fact that I do report outside athletics does give some credibility to what we’re doing here.”
Creating a separation between athletics officials and academic programs is recommended by the NCAA, Regina Sullivan, senior associate athletics director, said.
Through the University’s oversight committees and the athletics department’s academic programs, interaction between faculty and coaches has progressed, Sullivan said.
“They’ve gotten better over time,” she said. “We in athletics have made an effort, and I believe that the faculty has made an effort.”