Citing low academic standards for student-athletes and a disconnect between the funding and administration of the Athletic Department and the rest of the University, the University’s main faculty governing body is pushing administrators to adopt a set of reforms that would increase University oversight of athletic programs.

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs recently submitted a report to the University Board of Regents endorsing athletics reforms. The reforms are recommended by a 2007 report from the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group made up of the faculty senates of 55 schools with Division I-A athletic programs.

Vanderbilt University Prof. Virginia Shepherd, a coalition co-chair, said in an e-mail interview that the report was written because athletic departments need to be more connected with their respective academic institutions.

“There are always decisions in any unit of a university that will need to be made by the leaders without our knowledge,” she said. “But with an operation as big as athletics that controls so much of our public image, our financial health, our giving, it would certainly be healthy to have more transparency and honesty.”

One of the main reforms in the SACUA report recommended the University athletic department budget be integrated into the University general budget where possible.

University bylaws stipulate “separate accounting and financial statements will be made for department funds.”

At a SACUA meeting yesterday, Athletic Director Bill Martin said the University Athletic Department budget is reviewed annually by the University’s chief financial officer, the University Board of Regents and President Mary Sue Coleman.

“Our whole budgeting process is totally integrated with the University,” Martin said.

The four recommendations in the report – titled “Framing the Future: Reforming Intercollegiate Athletics” – focus on academic integrity in athletic departments, the student-athlete experience on campus, campus governing of athletics and fiscal responsibility in athletic departments.

The faculty-endorsed report says “no academic programs should be designed specifically for student-athletes” or created for the purpose of allowing student-athletes to maintain their eligibility.

The Athletic Department’s academic integrity was in the spotlight this summer when former University football player and Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh accused University advisors of steering student-athletes into what he said were less rigorous programs like the College of Literature, Science and the Arts’s general studies degree.

SACUA members also questioned athletics administrators at yesterday’s meeting about what they said was a disproportionate amount of student-athletes in the Bachelor of General Studies program compared to regular students.

“If the BGS program is so flexible and appealing, why are there so many football players in the BGS program compared to the general student body?” asked Law Prof. Richard Friedman.

Shari Acho, an associate athletic director, said the General Studies program affords student-athletes flexibility in their course selection.

“The General Studies degree lets students sample different classes and lets students find something that they’re interested in,” she said.

The recommendations also call for the merger of academic student-athlete advising with existing academic advising structures.

In an interview yesterday, Sue Shand, an associate athletic director, said athletic academic advising is critical because it offers students extra help in scheduling classes around sports schedules – something that the University’s other advising offices don’t do.

“We’re focused on making sure that student-athletes don’t miss classes and that they graduate and get their degree,” Shand said.

The third section of the proposal recommends that the chair of the University’s Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics – a governing body comprised of faculty members, students, alumni and staff – be a “senior (tenured) faculty member,” not the athletic director.

University regent bylaws make the athletic director – a job currently held by Bill Martin, who is not a faculty member – the chair of the board.

David Potter, SACUA’s vice chair, said replacing Martin with a faculty member as chair of the advisory board would be one of the most visible changes that could come from the recommendations.

The SACUA proposal also recommends that the overall growth rate in the Athletic Department’s operating costs be no greater than that of the University’s operating costs.

The University’s general budget grew 1.9 percent between the 2006-2007 fiscal year and the 2007-2008 fiscal year. The Athletic Department’s budget, meanwhile, increased 17.6 percent during that same period.

The University Athletic Department funds its operating budget entirely from its own revenues.

Shepherd said the COIA report – and pressure from groups like SACUA at universities around the country – will hopefully hold athletic departments more fiscally accountable.

“It’s difficult to justify the continued upward, seemingly out of control spending on athletic support services,” Shepherd said. “Many places have locker rooms and training facilities for our athletes found nowhere else in the world, with state of the art technology. Is this kind of spending necessary?”

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