We've been hearing a fair amount about the report from the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics since it was released
last week. Many journalists, athletic directors and coaches around the country have passed it off as just a lot of hot air.One of the members of the Knight Commission, University of Utah President Chase Peterson, disagrees, saying the report can have a significant impact on changing intercollegiate athletics for the better.
Peterson was one of the 22 members of the Commission, which included university presidents, private businessmen and even a member of Congress - former college and pro basketball
star Tom McMillen. The Commission met about every two months for the past 18 months to come up with recommendations to help change college athletics.
Basically, the report proposes a "one-plus-three" model in which the one - presidential control - is directed toward the other three - academic integrity, financial integrity and independent certification.
Even though there's nothing binding about it, Peterson feels only good things will come out of the report,
"It can be implemented in two ways," he said. "Some conferences will adopt the ideas themselves and the NCAA will continue reform through legislation." Peterson says because there is some overlap with people on the Knight Commission and the Presidents Commission for NCAA rule-making, there is a good chance the NCAA will adopt some of the recommendations.
And there's more than just following the rules to stay off NCAA probation, says Peterson. He feels too many schools are guilty of ethical violations, using players for athletics only and then discarding them without any academic progress.
"Some institutions have no (athletes) graduate. That's not against the law. No rule has been broken," he said. "But no one should be allowed to play ball for four years and end up as a dumbbell out on the street.
Peterson believes when players are progressing toward a degree, they are not only better people but better athletes also. He referred to his own school's basketball program as an example.
"We have kids from all different backgrounds, but the university and the coach has taken responsibility for their academic progress," he said. "They're attending classes and doing well academically and the kids are also playing better basketball as a result."
Some have suggested that the Knight report gives the presidents too much control when it says "Presidents will have the same degree of control over athletics that they excercise elsewhere in the university, including the authority to hire, evaluate and terminate athletic directors and coaches and to oversee all financial matters in their athletic departments.
Peterson said "it's a fair argument" that there could be bad presidents who won't follow the rules. But he thinks if a president isn't following the rules, he'll be embarassed because of the scrutiny by his faculty and fellow presidents.
"The president has to be held responsible. If the president isn't responsible then people are going to notice. We don't want the board of trustees or alumni boards to be responsible. That's been the problem in places like Texas."
Although many athletic directors around the nation were critical of various parts of the commission's report, athletic directors at some of Utah's major colleges were generally positive about it.
"There's nothing threatening about it at all," said Chris Hill, the University of Utah athletic director. "From our standpoint, we're pretty much doing the things that have been requested in the report."
BYU athletic director Glen Tuckett was one of a select number of athletic directors who was invited to sit before the commission last fall and share ideas. He doesn't believe college athletics need major reforms. "I thought (Notre Dame's) Father Hesburgh was a little bit harsh when he said we need to `remove the scum from the cesspool of college athletics.'
"It doesn't need radical surgery, it's not deathly sick," he said. "It just needs some selective cosmetic surgery, not a heart transplant. By and large intercollegiate athletics are in very good shape."
Utah State athletic director Rod Tueller wonders how much the Knight report was really needed. He feels a minority of schools have problems with their athletic programs and that athletic directors aren't given enough credit for the job they're doing.
"I think most athletic directors take it for what it's worth," he said. "It's a re-emphasis of what we already know. Obviously there are abuses, but I don't think it's out of control. It's not an answer for us here. Don't call the whole kettle black."
Tueller doesn't see any problem with the idea of presidential control, saying the buck needs to stop somewhere.
"I've never known a president who wasn't in total control of his athletic program. Stan Cazier is our president and I work for him. He's definitely in control. If someone checks the presidents, who checks the checkers? When does a little bit of honor and integrity come in to this? I think if we don't check ourselves, the Congress and State Legislatures will have to check us and I don't want that to happen."
Although he agreed with much of the Knight report, Tueller was disappointed it didn't address issues such as Title IX (equality for women) and the idea of trying to maintain broad-based athletic programs (more than just football and basketball).
Each of the athletic directors agreed that the image of college athletics is much worse than it really is. "We're dealing with perception, not reality," said Tueller.
"Our image has never caught up with the progress we've made over the past few years," said Hill.
Peterson said the third idea in the one-plus-three model, the idea of certification or access, needs more attention given to it. Most of the emphasis has been given to the academic and finanacial aspects, but the certification gives teeth to the proposals.
"There needs to be full access at every university . . . to be able to talk to anybody you want, to see if these high-sounding phrases are being followed."
Hill said Utah will be one of the schools that will be a pilot program for certification, to make sure schools are meeting the criteria set by the Knight Commission.
"The Knight Commission is kind of a conscience for the NCAA," said Peterson. "It says `Let's play by the rules and if some don't want to play by the rules, don't let them play."'