Dr. Walter Harrison

Chapter 9

Innovation and Self-Regulation: Significant Change in College Sports

  • Dr. Walter Harrison President, University of Hartford

Chapter Overview

Ask any sports fan about the future of college sports and here's at least part of what you will hear. College sports have serious problems that must be addressed, but the NCAA, the self-regulatory body charged with overseeing college sports, will not be able to make any substantial difference because it is too dominated by self-interest. The most powerful sports conferences and universities will not work cooperatively to promote desperately needed change.

I want to challenge that widely held opinion by considering the substantial improvement in the academic success of student athletes over the past decade. This cooperative work, led by college and university presidents, has resulted in ten percentage point gains in student graduation rates: student athletes now in NCAA Division I graduate at an 84 percent six-year rate, six points higher than the overall student bodies at these universities. This is one of the least well-publicized achievements in higher education in the twenty-first century, and it represents an outstanding example of the power of self-regulation.

Anyone who follows college sports knows that this is one of the most challenging periods in its history. The whole future of college sports hangs in the balance. And I know full well that the NCAA is not without its flaws.

But the NCAA is also one of the largest and most visible self-regulatory bodies in higher education. Within this complex and highly visible organization, a group of college and university presidents, NCAA staff, athletics professionals, and faculty from around the country have worked together to change an important part of university culture. In this change, I suggest, are examples that could be duplicated elsewhere within higher education.

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