On the Ball

Five Minutes with the President

You are currently serving a second term as the Sun Belt conference’s representative on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. As one of just 18 voting members, you are in a position to wield significant influence on some of the off-the-field problems afflicting big-time collegiate sports today. You have also been quite active alongside other university presidents nationwide in seeking NCAA reform. Update us on new measures in place to curb improprieties in collegiate sports. 

Last summer, I spent two days in Indianapolis, where a retreat of 54 university presidents and administrators called for swift and serious actions on a variety of fronts. These were the most serious and engaging meetings of presidents and chancellors I’ve seen since I’ve been associated with the NCAA. There were a number of significant issues on the table. The impact of what is happening will be felt throughout the NCAA membership. There was absolute resolve to address these issues.

Gone are the days when college coaches—some of them, at least—thought that because they led a nationally regarded program they could cheat, get wrist-slapped, and forge ahead without serious consequences. Going forward, cheating in programs will be handled with swift and severe penalties. We want to get out of the business of enforcing the ticky-tack rules and focus on the major rules and strengthening the penalties.

Also, our board voted to ban Division I teams with a four-year academic progress rate (APR) below 930 from postseason play of any type. Prior to that vote, any team with a four-year APR of 925 or less faced only a loss of scholarships. Had these new standards been in place last March, several teams—including defending men’s basketball national champion Connecticut—wouldn’t have been eligible to participate in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

University presidents are the key to fixing this problem. They simply must dictate a culture of ethics and of following the rules on their campuses. Cheating, lack of accountability and low academic expectations have plagued college athletics for too long. What we are seeing now, I believe, will be the most sweeping fundamental changes to the college sports landscape in decades.

Fans should be encouraged by these recent events. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated after the meeting in Indianapolis that college presidents had acted courageously and were leading the way to real reform.

Alleged incidents of child sexual abuse by athletic coaches at Penn State and Syracuse universities have also dominated news headlines in recent months. What is MTSU doing to ensure nothing of the kind occurs on its own campus?

As part of our efforts to maintain a safe campus, I have reminded all faculty and staff of their obligation, as set out in law in University  policy, to immediately inform local law enforcement of suspected child abuse. I have also asked our Office of University Counsel to develop a program to provide information and training concerning risk management and best practices for camps and clinics held on campus.

Thank you for your time Mr. President.

[Editor’s Note: The NCAA Scholarly Colloquium on College Sports, designed to spur scholarly research on intercollegiate athletics and held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention, took place Jan. 10-11 in Indianapolis. Anchoring the agenda was a panel of college officials – including Dr. McPhee – discussing the NCAA’s latest iteration of academic reform.]