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AGB Statement on Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics

April 6, 2009

The below is excerpted from the introduction; download the full statement.

Since the AGB Board of Directors adopted a “Statement on Board Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics” in 2004, the academic and intercollegiate athletics communities have viewed the document as a valuable guide to help governing boards appropriately exercise their oversight responsibilities in college sports. The statement clearly describes the role of boards in achieving the critical goal of integrating intercollegiate athletics within the educational context of higher education.

In 2007, the AGB board adopted a “Statement on Board Accountability,” which encourages boards and chief executives to examine the clarity, coherence, and appropriateness of their institutions’ governance structures, policies, and practices. The document asserts core principles of board accountability and responsibility in such areas as fiscal integrity, board performance, and educational quality—areas that surely encompass the board’s oversight responsibilities for intercollegiate athletics.

Over the last few decades, intercollegiate athletics have enjoyed an enormous increase in popularity at all levels of competition. While greater public exposure has been a boon to the enterprise and exciting for athletes and fans alike, the focus of attention on college sports is as likely to concern scores and standings as it is inappropriate behavior or rules violations. Clearly, the impact of intercollegiate athletics on the higher education experience has challenged those responsible for leading America’s colleges and universities.

Central to any efforts aimed at aligning intercollegiate athletics more closely with the educational mission of colleges and universities is the responsibility of governing boards to hold those charged with administering these programs accountable to high standards. In the time since the AGB Board of Directors commended the 2004 statement of principles and guidelines to its members, the expectations of the public, elected officials, and the news media for institutional accountability have continued to heighten.

In 2007, the AGB Board of Directors adopted a revised statement to reinvigorate efforts on the part of governing boards to align intercollegiate athletics with the mission, vision, and values of higher education. This document is meant to encourage and guide discussion and action where it may be needed.

While most of what transpires in college athletics is positive, there is a growing sense among academic leaders, the news media, and the public that our society glorifies athletic accomplishment far more than academic achievement. At some colleges and universities, intercollegiate athletics programs may be detracting from the institution’s mission. What’s more, the increasingly commercialized nature of major sports at the highest competitive levels and a widening gulf between the athletic and academic cultures at some institutions and in some communities have negatively affected the reputation and public standing of higher education as a whole. Restoring balance between sports and education continues to be elusive. If efforts to achieve an appropriate balance are to succeed, governing board members will need to lend consistent and public support to their chief executives and academic leaders who are at the forefront of such discussions.

Although presidents and chancellors have always been essential to athletics reform efforts, only recently have governing boards been asked to address the issues more actively. Given their responsibilities for ensuring the academic integrity and reputation of the institutions they serve, boards should be engaged in the search for balance. Further, because board members occasionally have been associated with problems in some prominent football and basketball programs, it is time for all boards to reexamine how they exercise their oversight responsibilities.

This statement of principles and guidelines applies most directly and urgently to institutions with major football and basketball programs, but it also is intended to help trustees and academic leaders whose institutions compete at all division levels. Certainly, the applicability of many sections will vary from one institution to another. Some may find the statement’s numerous suggestions to be daunting, but the intent is for boards and presidents to use them selectively rather than comprehensively. Strong voices are needed to express a clear philosophical and moral position on the core issues.

This statement addresses eight areas of board engagement: (1) general oversight responsibilities, (2) presidential leadership, (3) athletics department mission, (4) fiscal responsibility, (5) academics and student-athlete welfare, (6) compliance, (7) personnel, and (8) communications.

The Illustrative Policy on Intercollegiate Athletics for Boards and Presidents, adopted April 2009, was developed in consultation with institution presidents, representatives of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and AGB board and staff members. It is intended to guide the crafting of specific policies on intercollegiate athletics, policies that spell out the leadership roles and oversight responsibilities of the board, president, and athletics department. Safeguarding the well-being of student athletes and properly integrating intercollegiate athletics into higher education are the ultimate goals of these policies.

The AGB Board of Directors hopes this document will encourage and guide discussion and action where it may be needed.

Download the full statement.