As you've probably heard, the Knight Commission, two years and $2 million later, has concluded its research into college athletics in America and come up with the conclusion that they're out of control. The athletics, not the commission.
The 22-member committee, including University of Utah President Chase N. Peterson, suggested this solution: That America's university presidents themselves take control. That they put an end to maverick athletic departments running end-arounds. That they put a short noose on booster clubs. That the bucks stop on the president's desk."The Commission's bedrock conviction is that university presidents are the key to successful reform," it says on page seven of the 37-page Knight Foundation report entitled Keeping Faith With The Student-Athlete. "They must be in charge - and be understood to be in charge - on campuses, in conferences and in the decision-making councils of the NCAA."
A laudatory move, on the surface, although not altogether surprising, considering that 13 of the 22 people on the Knight Commission happened to be university presidents; and considering that a lot of people probably already thought the president was in charge of the university in the first place, which is why they call him, or her, president.
It makes sense that if the president has a grip, the athletic department should also. So should the chemistry department and the physics department and, theoretically, the philosophy department.
But then comes the question, who's going to control the president?
Who's going to make sure there aren't any presidents who are a lot closer in thinking to George Steinbrenner than they are to Thomas Jefferson? Who's going to ensure that there aren't any presidents who think ballet is a sport? Who's going to run a background check and make sure there aren't any presidents who wouldn't sell out to CBS for, say, a billion bucks?
Who's going to make sure there aren't any presidents like the one in Animal House?
These are important questions if the Knight Foundation's commission report stands a chance.
Putting leaders in charge of the leading isn't always the best solution. In Central America, for instance, the dictators get together every few years, decide that their region is more or less out of control, and then adjourn with the conclusion that the dictators should do more dictating. Somewhat like the Knight Commission, only they usually spend more than $2 million.
Closer to home, look at what happens in professional sports when the owners, who are for the most part wealthy and hugely successful CEOs in other walks of life, do the leading. Salaries go out of control, the courts are flooded with collusion cases, and Joe Fan pays $31 for an upper concourse seat without a cushion and another $10 for parking. Only when the owners are saved by a shrewd, level-headed businessman they call a commissioner do they not see the enemy, which is themselves.
Look at what happened in Vietnam when President Lyndon Johnson called the shots from the White House.
Leadership from the top is only effective when it is good leadership from the top. Or, in other words, a college president can lead you to the death penalty just as surely as an assistant football coach flying in 18-year-olds more than once from Odessa.
If they're serious about this, there should be some kind of a program, a 900 number at the very least, to help university presidents understand how to control and maintain athletic departments.
For starters, a university president should know there's trouble when:
- Your student-athletes are driving nicer cars than you are.
- Your football coach puts you on hold, daily.
- Your athletic director wins the country club golf invitational, annually.
- Your basketball coach has players who once played for Jerry Tarkanian.
- And when you don't resist the urge, however strong, to go in the locker room after the game and throw your arm around the coach, the quarterback, or the cheerleaders.
The list goes on and on. Controlling athletics in this day and age is no picnic. The Knight Commission says it's time the presidents give it the old college try. If it works, great. But if it doesn't work, who's going to fire them? That's what a lot of athletic directors are wondering right about now.