NCAA advises schools to watch sports spending

Updated: October 31, 2006, 12:06 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- When the NCAA set out to improve graduation rates among student-athletes, it established national standards and penalties for teams that didn't comply. Shifting the focus from academics to finances required a much more hands-off approach.

In a task-force report released Monday by NCAA president Myles Brand, Division I schools were encouraged to rein in spending on sports -- but there aren't any requirements everyone must adhere to or punishments if they don't.

"In the case of academic reform, we had a hammer -- namely, by teams not conforming, we could take away scholarships and, if that failed, we could keep them out of the Final Four and postseason. That's heavy duty. That's a sledgehammer," Brand said after speaking at the National Press Club. "The fact is, we don't have that for fiscal responsibility in intercollegiate athletics."

The task force of about 50 school presidents and chancellors was formed in January 2005, and the report's release comes as the NCAA is preparing its response to an Oct. 3 letter from Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. Thomas asked the NCAA to justify its tax-exempt status and sought a reply by the end of October; the NCAA received a two-week extension.

"We want to answer this in the most serious way, and I want to make sure we have enough time to develop answers that are accurate," Brand said.

Antitrust laws prevent the NCAA from mandating how much schools can spend, Brand said, adding that because each situation is so different, it wouldn't make sense for there to be broad rules covering budgets for sports.

"A cookie-cutter approach will not work," Brand said.

So instead, Monday's report -- "The Second-Century Imperatives: Presidential Leadership, Institutional Accountability," a reference to the NCAA's centennial -- makes more than a dozen recommendations, covering spending and how to make sports an integrated part of campus life.

University presidents are offered suggestions and tools for how to monitor and moderate spending on sports. Brand said there will be more transparency.

"You can read it, whether you're from a small school or from a very large school like ours, and find things in it that you can comply with, that you can disagree with, and in some cases things that you can't afford and in other cases things that you can afford," said Ohio State president Karen Holbrook, a task force member. "Sometimes guiding people as opposed to pushing people or telling them what to do is more effective."

The task force also put forth two ideas but stopped short of endorsing them:

•  adding a fifth season of eligibility;

•  allowing athletes in all sports who transfer after freshman year to be eligible immediately, without sitting out a season.

Brand insisted there is no fiscal crisis in Division I college sports, but he did say there is "clearly stress in the system and the stress is almost certain to increase without corrective action."

While general university spending rises about 3 to 4 percent annually, spending on Division I sports is rising as much as 12 percent, Brand said.

"You need to design programs that moderate the rate of increase," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press