With the upcoming NCAA reform, Sport Conflict Institute recently discussed ideas, problems, and possible solutions with tenured University of Nebraska Law Professor, Jo Potuto.

The esteemed faculty representative and professor believes in process. And with such drastic changes across all five major conferences within the NCAA, Potuto believes that governance is going to create a further division among Division I programs.

Potuto explained this issue by defining the difference between autonomous campuses and non-autonomous campuses in depth, followed by a discussion on the multiple issues these Division I programs could be facing:

“What’s happening now is that Division I is going to be further subdivided—so there will be some issues that are called autonomy issues, that defy big conferences (Big10, Big 12, FCC, ACC, Pac12)… that (schools) will be able to handle on their own. And then the other issues in Division I are still going to be in a shared governing structure where everybody is there and everybody is voting although, as is the case today, there will be weighted voting in favor of the major schools. That’s what’s coming in terms of the way the governance will look.”

Based on this opinion, what, exactly, are some of the issues in terms of autonomy versus shared governance and how can we figure out where the line is? As it seems as though most of these issues have always had something to do with shared governance.

The line must be established first and foremost.

From a process perspective, it’s very clear that what autonomy is and what it is not, isn’t as easily administered as simply saying, according to Potuto, that it’s “going to cause process problems going forward.”

The bigger issue at hand is the obvious fact that all of these schools are Division I programs that compete against each other. The autonomous schools will be able to spend more money on resources and aide for student-athletes while the other schools are going to have to find funds to try to keep up with other teams.

So how do we move forward?

Striking A Balance Between Athletics and Academics in NCAA Reform

One looming issue is what the impact will be if more money is diverted to student-athlete interests. But if this is what the future holds, the real question is, where is the money going to come from? And how will it be justified?

Do we sacrifice academia for athletics?

How can we find a balance?

Who gets the shorter end of the stick?

Does there have to be a shorter end of the stick?

The main fear that people currently have is that within 5, 10 or 15 years, Division I sports will contain very few competitive sports and will only feature sports such as football and men’s basketball along with a small group of women’s sports. Thus leaving us with the assumption that no other sports will compete at a collegiate level.

Another consideration is that football and men’s basketball along with a small selection of women’s sports will be placed at a higher tier and every other sport will be set at a lower tier in terms of funding.

In other words, again, they might not compete nationally.

One might hope that the redistribution of money could help resolve this problem. But that’s another issue on its own.

Acknowledging that greater restraint on coach’s salaries and facility buildings need to be put in place, Potuto believes. “One thing we should think about doing is instituting a policy or bylaw that says for every dollar you spend on athletics, a dollar has to go back to the greater campus.”

In a world where a university’s Classics department may be cut due to a poor economy or budgeting restraints, it’s a worthwhile discussion as to whether we should be cutting athletic opportunities for students, as well.

The issue at hand is not an issue of how much money school’s have; it’s clearly a distribution issue. Potuto admits, “We say we’ve got to be competitive in this sport so we insulate the rates to keep competition there and then we don’t have the money to cover other kinds of things that should be covered.” The balance between athletics and academics is on trial, again.

So what, then, is really the biggest challenge with this new reform?


Author: Kristen Mohror