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Knight Commission Looking into Restructuring College Sports

Brock Fritz Headshot

College athletics have changed significantly since the National Collegiate Athletic Association was formed in the early 1900s.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a 30-year-old organization intent on strengthening the educational mission of college sports, thinks the landscape has changed enough to restructure the entire system. The commission released a statement Monday, noting that is has informed NCAA President Mark Emmert that it will begin to look at models to restructure college athletics and seek “far-reaching reforms that will better prioritize student-athletes’ education, health, safety and success.”

Arne Duncan and Carol Cartwright’s letter to Emmert cited how the “highly commercialized environment” for high-level college basketball and football has led the Knight Commission to begin exploring “alternative structures for Division I college sports, with a special focus on the impact of FBS football.”

“The NCAA graduation rate report released in October provides welcome news of widespread educational improvement that has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of student-athletes,” the letter said. “We applaud the NCAA for its longstanding efforts toward achieving these outcomes.

“While we celebrate that progress, it is clear that substantial challenges face NCAA member institutions, conferences, and college athletes in the highly commercial environment for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football and some NCAA Division I sports, particularly men’s basketball.”

The Knight Committee intends to examine the NCAA’s shared revenues, a majority of which come from the Division I men’s basketball tournament. The committee estimates that “more than 60 percent of the NCAA distributions are impacted by FBS football factors, even though the NCAA does not receive any revenues from FBS football.”

The NCAA doesn’t sponsor a championship in Football Bowl Subdivision football, so the revenue isn’t part of distribution purposes. According to CBS Sports, the 65 Power Five schools collect most of the $7.2 billion in rights fees from ESPN over the College Football Playoffs’ 12-year contract.

Duncan spoke at a Sports Business Journal conference in New York last week, discussing possible restructuring ideas. A leading candidate is placing the programs that make the most revenue into a new division.

“Just let them play by a different set of rules – and be upfront about it and be honest about it,” Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, said, noting that the existing structure of the NCAA “works extraordinarily well for 95, 96, 97 percent of students and schools.”

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