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Panelists Consider Challenges Facing College Athletics

UPDATED: October 17, 2017 at 12:04 a.m.

University presidents and athletics administrators addressed a range of issues facing collegiate athletics at a panel discussion Thursday, discussing amateurism, coaching and staff diversity, and several scandals that have dogged athletics programs in recent years.

Moderated by Education School professor James Soto Antony, the panel featured the head of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, presidents of two universities, and the executive director of the Ivy League.

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Panelists were quick to assert that athletic programs build camaraderie and community among students, and also benefit student-athletes themselves.

“People are off going in their different directions, and athletics really does pull a big decentralized research university together in a way that nothing else does,” said Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut. “It draws the world to your university and markets it in a way you never could.”

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Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, said she believes college athletics programs are an unparalleled source of life lessons for student-athletes, teaching students “[to bounce] back from defeat and adversity, teamwork, communication, the business skills, leadership skills.”

Panelists also outlined the challenges athletics programs can bring to students and universities. In recent years, athletics scandals have rocked colleges across the nation.

This month, the FBI charged multiple people with bribery in college basketball. And last fall, the Harvard men’s soccer team was among several college teams to have its season cancelled after administrators discovered the team had circulated sexually explicit material about the women's soccer recruits.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said he is confident that the NCAA can address the challenges college athletic programs faces, though he recognized a need for reform.

“Does the NCAA have a structure right now that they can hold each other accountable for behavior that is essential to having collegiate athletics be successful? I’m confident that the answer to that is yes, but I’m also confident that we’ve got to make some very fundamental changes,” said Emmert.

Panelists also discussed the issue of amateurism in college athletics. All agreed that student-athletes should not be paid, but that they should receive enough financial support to ensure they can succeed athletically and academically.

“When college athletics is done right, the issue doesn't even come up, whether they are amateur or employees, because… you’re treating them as students who are in a co-curricular endeavor that happens to involve athletic competition,” said Harris.

Chris Howard, president of Robert Morris University, spoke about the need for athletic programs need to actively seek racial diversity when hiring for coaches and directors.

“You should take some of that money, and there’s a lot of money there, and put it into diversity efforts,” said Howard. “[We] have to take a deliberate, proper step, just like with Title IX… to change that.”

Harvard is currently conducting a review of how it pays its coaches after a complaint from the women’s rugby team alleged “unequal treatment” of men’s and women’s programs. According to Department of Education statistics, head coaches of Harvard’s women’s teams were paid roughly $34,000 less than head coaches of men’s teams in the 2015-2016 school year.

Harris said that the Ivy League “[doesn’t] get involved” in gender-bias accusations and that it leaves compensation decisions up to individual colleges. She also said she “[hasn’t] heard anything” about these allegations.

“Obviously I believe there should be no discrimination in how pay is set, but there’s a lot of factors that go into how pay is set,” she said.

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