Knight Commission recommends college football overhaul

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued recommendations[1] to overhaul management of the nation’s top college football programs, suggesting that a new entity be created to oversee the Football Bowl Subdivision, which includes the most successful and lucrative teams in the sport.

The commission, which advocates for college sports reform and an academic-focused model, completed a yearlong review[2] on Thursday of the current competition and revenue structure for 130 institutions in the FBS, a college football subdivision within Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The commission published a wide-ranging report[3] on the history of FBS governance and issues that commission members, including current and former college presidents, athletic directors, and former college athletes, believe have led to inequities among FBS institutions[4] and a lack of accountability for how revenue from college football championship and playoff games is allocated.

The proposal aims to centralize FBS governance, downsizing from two controlling entities to one, and give athletic conferences and colleges that compete in the subdivision equal input in decision making, regardless of the winning record or profitability of their football programs. The new model would allow the NCAA to dedicate its resources to the sports for which it oversees championships — all those other than FBS football — and the sports from which it gains revenue, such as men’s basketball, according to the commission.

During a virtual meeting[5] Thursday, Nancy Zimpher, chancellor emeritus of the State University of New York and a Knight Commission member, outlined the commission’s three major recommendations:

  • Institutional leaders should create a new entity to oversee FBS operations, called the National College Football Association. The new entity would be separate from the NCAA and from the group that currently manages college football playoff and championship games, the College Football Playoff.
  • The NCAA should govern all other sports that are not FBS football, including the other subdivisions of football, and create a voting system within association leadership that is equal for all athletic conferences. Currently, institutions with FBS football have more voting power on the NCAA Division I Board of Directors[6] than non-FBS institutions. Other aspects of NCAA structure, such as the Division I men’s basketball championship and tournament structure, should remain the same, Zimpher said. The tournament is the NCAA’s primary revenue stream[7].
  • The NCAA and the proposed NCFA should adopt a set of principles that include recognizing college athletes as “students first,” allowing athletes to profit from their personal celebrity[8] and committing to using revenue to “advance educational missions and educational opportunities for athletes.”

“We recognize that change of this magnitude will not be easy. But we believe it is urgently needed,” Zimpher said during the meeting. “No single entity is responsible for the most powerful sport in college athletics, FBS football. It is time to change this.”

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