Inside Iowa with Bob Bowlsby

June 16, 2005

Periodically, the presidents and directors of athletics of member institutions of the NCAA receive a newsletter from Myles Brand, current president of the NCAA. Each is always filled with information very pertinent to intercollegiate athletics. The most recent was not an exception and, in fact, it addressed three points that had direct application to the University of Iowa and our intercollegiate athletics program.

I’d like to share it with you. I think you’ll enjoy President Brands’ commentary. I am also going to share a “local perspective.” That will be in italics under the heading “The UI View.”

Have a great summer and as always, thank you for your outstanding support of the University of Iowa and our intercollegiate athletics program.

Greetings from Indianapolis

For many of us, the month of May connotes the conferment of degrees, the celebration of academic achievement and the recognition of leadership evident in yet another senior class.

Indeed, nothing inspires quite like graduation.

I came across a story in the New York Times recently that demonstrates the type of inspiration we find inherent in commencement. It also illustrates the value that intercollegiate athletics adds to higher education. The story concerns a soccer student-athlete – a 3.9 GPA student and all-conference athlete – preparing to deliver the valedictorian address at his school’s graduation ceremony. As the Times reporter correctly states, “This is the story that is not told often enough: how athletes, male and female, go to classes and turn in term papers and graduate, often with honors.”

But what makes the story more remarkable is that while this particular student-athlete is accomplished enough on the field to consider a professional soccer career, he also is accomplished enough in the classroom to have been offered a fellowship this summer in India to observe a program that moves children from sweatshops to schools. He is considering law school after that.

While the student knows his athletic skills can provide him with a brief career, his academic prowess is what will shape his life. That, to me, is inspirational.

I am certain that many of you have similar stories of equally accomplished student-athletes. There are thousands of such student-athletes on our campuses across the country. As educators, we know the value that the college experience brings to young people. And as president of the NCAA, I have seen the value that intercollegiate athletics adds to that experience.

As you know, the core philosophy of the NCAA is to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher educations o that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount. There is plenty of evidence to suggest this is occurring regularly – we need only the month of May, in fact, to remind us.

The second item was the academic excellence of Emily Vail, a four-year member of our rowing team. Emily completed her studies at the UI as one of 13 student-athletes in the Big Ten to earned a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or better. That accomplishment put Emily second overall among her peers who graduated from the UI in May.

The UI View: Three items come to mind immediately regarding President Myles’ comments about this time of year and the outstanding work of our student-athletes as student. First, the UI announced earlier this week that Jennifer Skolaski, a two-time all-America who recently completed her intercollegiate athletics career as a member of our swimming program, was one of a handful of student-athletes to be awarded an NCAA postgraduate scholarship.

The second item was the academic excellence of Emily Vail, a four-year member of our rowing team. Emily completed her studies at the UI as one of 13 student-athletes in the Big Ten to earned a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or better. That accomplishment put Emily second overall among her peers who graduated from the UI in May.

The third item was also announced earlier this month but probably didn’t receive the attention it deserved from the mainstream media: A total of 54 student-athletes who participate in spring sports at the UI were named to 2005-06 Academic all-Big Ten. The list included students from our baseball, softball, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men’s track and field, and women’s track and field teams

Athletics department refocus on academic progress

One of the many ways the NCAA is holding true to its core philosophy is in the implementation of reform efforts that enhance Division I initial-eligibility standards and fortify progress-toward-degree requirements so that student-athletes do in fact participate in those graduation ceremonies.

A cornerstone of the effort is the Academic Progress Rate (APR), no doubt a term with which many of you already are familiar. The APR provides a real-time assessment of all team’s academic performance. Cutpoints in the APR also have been established under which teams are subject to penalties such as the loss of scholarships for one year.

The NCAA rolled out the first APR results (based on data from 2003-04) in February. Since then, much has been written and discussed about the APR – and academic reform in general. Skeptics claim that the APR’s reliance upon student-athletes maintaining their eligibility will tempt institutions to shuttle athletes into majors that require less work – or worse, to create fraudulent classwork to keep athletes eligible. That is a flawed argument, however, since faculty charged with overseeing curricula should and will flag such abuse.

Others have criticized the APR for unfairly penalizing institutions for student-athletes who leave the institution to pursue a career in professional sports or who decided to transfer to another institution, even though they are in good academic standing. Still other claim that the APR affects some sports, such as baseball, uniquely and thus should be reworked to accommodate those special circumstances.

To be sure, the Division I Committee on Academic Performance, chaired by University of Hartford President Walt Harrison, is taking all of the feedback under advisement and is meeting regularly to hammer out the details of the reform implementation. It is a complex task and one I am certain will require various adjustments of the APR along the way.

The good news, though, in all of this is that while the APR has been difficult for some to understand completely, it already is having the desired effect of encouraging most institutions to review their academic policies regarding athletes and make changes where necessary. I have heard accounts of coaches who are changing their behavior when it comes to recruiting student-athletes who now must clear a higher academic bar. Some administrators are considering mandatory class-attendance requirements, or increasing the institutional requirements regarding the amount of hours student-athletes must pass each term, even if those requirements are more rigorous than the NCAA standards.

Suffice to say, the Big Ten Conference and the University of Iowa are committed to academic excellence. We believe strongly that this is a commitment that is embraced wholeheartedly by our many friends and fans.

In addition, the APR has prompted consideration of another concept – that of rewarding institutions with bonus APR points for student-athletes who return to complete their degrees after having played professionally. I have charged the Committee on Academic Performance to consider this idea as a meaningful incentive in the reform initiative. So far, much of the work has centered on disincentives, but just as important will be the development of meaningful incentives that reward institutions for demonstrating the type of behavior the APR was meant to encourage.

I expect the Committee on Academic Performance to address those and other issues during its upcoming meeting in July. President Harrison’s group also will begin working on establishing cutpoints in the APR under which teams will be subject o the so-called historically based penalties, which are meant to punish teams that underperform academically over time.

Overall, I am pleased with the way our academic-reform efforts have been both developed and received. Most Division I teams have no problem surpassing the APR standards, and their success should be – and is being – publicly celebrated. And those teams that are hovering at or have fallen below the APR cut-off are competitive enough to have taken steps to improve. That, after all, is the point of reform. I have said many times that reform is not a punitive effort; rather, it is meant to encourage all institutions to devote the attention necessary to ensure student-athlete academic success. By all accounts, that is happening.

The UI View: As a friend of our program, you are probably aware of our commitment to the “student” in student-athlete. We have worked hard to develop a culture that embraces academic success as much as academic success. We also invest significant resources in the facilities and people charged with making certain our student-athletes are achieving academically. As an institution, we stack up very well when our student-athletes progress is measured by the new APR. We have room for improvement and you can rest assured that our administrative staff, the coaches staff and, most importantly, the student-athletes themselves are aware of our expectation to excel in all pieces of the intercollegiate athletics experience.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t note the statistics that apply against the efforts of the 11 institutions within the Big Ten Conference:

– The conference average APR of 963 is above the NCAA Division I average of 948
– Eight of the league’s institutions meet or exceed the conference average
– Nine of the league’s institutions exceed the NCAA Division I average- Only 1.5 percent (4) of the teams sponsored by Big Ten institutions would have been subject to contemporaneous penalties based on the adjusted APR rates.

Suffice to say, the Big Ten Conference and the University of Iowa are committed to academic excellence. We believe strongly that this is a commitment that is embraced wholeheartedly by our many friends and fans.

Research on capital expenditures in athletics

Speaking of research, a study by nationally known economists Peter and Jonathan Orszag and funded in part by the Mellon Foundation has been completed on the effects of capital spending in athletics.

The capital-expenses report supplements a 2003 study on athletics operating budgets that tested the validity of a number of commonly held assumptions about intercollegiate athletics. That study noted that athletics operating budgets are a small portion – about 3.5 percent – of Division I-A university budgets. In addition, it found that increased spending does not raise winning percentages or revenues.

While the study was valuable in examining trends in operating expenses, it did not capture data in capital expenditures, an area many people thought would support the notion of an “arms race” in college sports. Capital costs are not readily available through data collected as part of the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA), the source of the operating data used in the 2003 study.

The capital-expenditures study showed that capital costs make up a significant portion of the money spent to run programs, but nonetheless, total athletics spending remains a relatively small share of overall institutional budgets. However, the magnitude of those costs is a sign that they should be closely monitored and used as a tool by college presidents, boards and athletics directors to make informed decisions about future investments.

Both fiscal studies will be useful to the recently created Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics, which will conduct its first in-person meeting June 9-10 in Tucson, Arizona. The task force, which is composed of four subcommittees, is charged with, among other things, examining fiscal-integrity issues in college sports. The four subcommittee chairs are presidents Larry Faulkner of Texas, Karen Holbrook of Ohio State, Gerald Turner of Southern Methodist and Peter Likins of Arizona. Peter Likins in addition serves as chair of the entire group.

The UI View: Much has been written and discussed about the current investment being made in our historic football facility and rightfully so. Yes, there is no questioning the fact that $90 million is a very significant amount of money to invest in one facility.

However, it should be noted that the University is also currently making multi-million dollar investments in other facilities across the campus ranging from much-needed parking facilities and road improvements, to the construction of new facilities that will further the University’s research and educational missions, and – as announced yesterday – a $10 million renovation/addition to the Iowa Memorial Union that will provide much-needed space for student organizations while making that landmark facility of our campus much more functional for our student body.

I also want to take this opportunity to scratch a little below the surface regarding the renovation of Kinnick Stadium and how it works from a financial perspective. As you are no doubt aware, one of the by-products of the renovation is the creation of three different types of premium seating opportunities inside the new press box – private suites, indoor club seats and outdoor club seats. It is the multi-year commitment made by friends University of Iowa and fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes to these upscale opportunities paired with cash gifts to the UI Foundation earmarked for the renovation project that will fund the project.

No revenue from ticket sales, concessions, television or radio contracts, corporate sponsorship or any of the other sources of annual income generated by the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics each academic year is earmarked for expenses associated with the renovation of our prized facility.

Why then, you may ask, are ticket prices going up? We increase ticket prices when it becomes necessary to pay the expenses associated with the operation of a broad-based intercollegiate athletics program. Medical care, coaches salaries, team travel (purchased a tank of gas lately?), and the 600-plus scholarships we award each year are among the expenses that continue to spiral upward.

I think it is also important to note that more than 420,000 freinds of institution and fans of our football program will gather for the six home games of our nationally ranked football program. The UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics will generate more than $15 million in gate receipts alone, a source of income that will provide resources to help fund the other 21 varsity sports programs sponsored by the UI. In my opinion — given these numbers — our investment in Kinnick Stadium is a wise one that will pay dividends for decades to come.