Colleges need to better police their sports programs, reports say

On the same day that former Penn State football coach and convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30 years in prison, a new report on Tuesday urged college governing officials to exercise stronger oversight over their institutions’ sports programs.

The report was one of several prepared for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which was formed more than two decades ago to resist the trend of money and booster influence in big-time college sports, which has led to numerous scandals.

“Our concern is that if boards do not act to ensure an appropriate balance between athletics and academics in our higher education institutions, policy makers or others will do it for us,” one of the reports said.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is just the latest high-profile academic institution to become embroiled in scandal. Others include Ohio State University, the University of Southern California and Penn State, all perennial sports powerhouses and feeder grounds for professional teams.

At Chapel Hill, an NCAA investigation found that sports agents offered perks to football players and a tutor fixed their class work to help them remain eligible to play. School Chancellor Holden Thorp fired popular football coach Butch Davis.

More scandals involving academic fraud and travel followed, however. Thorp, a highly regarded leader, announced last month that he would resign at the end of the school year and return to his former job as a chemistry professor.

One of the reports, prepared by researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, asked the leaders and coaches of all 342 NCAA Division I athletic departments to prioritize values, such as academic excellence, health, safety, honesty and sportsmanship.

“More than 500 coaches passionately defended the values and said that everyone walks the walk and strives to provide a phenomenal experience for the athletes,” said Erianne Weight, one of the authors and an assistant professor of sports administration.

But 41 percent of 1,005 coaches involved in the report said that “contradictions” between values and practice existed at their schools, she said. Weight added that their comments raised serious issues that could indicate “unethical behavior and appalling experiences for the athletes.”

John T. Casteen III, president emeritus of the University of Virginia and a co-author of a report on the responsibilities of university governing boards, said that the Penn State scandal has challenged other schools to double their oversight.

His report called it a “painful reminder that all boards need to be well informed and must clearly establish the appropriate role of athletics. . . . When the board fails to provide effective oversight or ask the questions that hold the president of the institution accountable, the consequences can be enormous."

Sandusky, 68, had been convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in a scandal and cover-up that brought about the firing of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, the resignation of the school's president and the indictment of two university officials. The NCAA earlier punished Penn State for the scandal with a four-year ban on bowl appearances, a loss of scholarships, a reversal of its football wins from 1998 to 2011 and a $60 million fine.

Other findings:

– Nearly half of the governing boards said they had a policy for overseeing athletics in line with a model policy of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

– Half said they had policies to protect children and teens who visit universities for sports camps and enrichment programs. Casteen said that many institutions were rushing to put such policies in place following the Penn State scandal.

– About one-third said they got enough information to know whether athletes were successful as students, based on what academic majors they declared, how big a demand sports put on their time and how many of them transferred to other schools.

The reports also took note of the gulf in collegiate sports between the “haves” and “have-nots,” and its effect on school finances and tuition.