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• At the University of Miami, president Donna Shalala has spent nearly two years dealing with an NCAA investigation of allegations that booster Nevin Shapiro provided thousands of dollars in improper benefits to Hurricanes athletes. She’s publicly criticized the NCAA’s probe, saying the school had been "wronged" and that the programs have "suffered enough" through self-imposed sanctions.
• And, at Penn State University, former president Graham Spanier faces charges of perjury and concealing child sex abuse allegations involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in a scandal that ended the long tenure of Joe Paterno and led to unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA.
Murray Sperber, a critic of commercialization in college sports, wonders why presidents don’t stumble more often when it comes to overseeing a realm that is often foreign to them. Most come from the academic side and make their way through the administrative ranks that exist as separate worlds from athletics on a college campus, he said.
"If you put me in charge of the Atomic Energy Commission, I would get in trouble," said Sperber, an author and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s graduate school of education. "I wouldn’t know what to say. It’s so inevitable that I’m kind of amazed nobody just stands up and says, ‘Look, these presidents don’t know anything.’"
The idea of presidential control in athletics took hold with the recommendations of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in the early 1990s.
The commission was created by what was then the Knight Foundation in 1989, after a string of college sports scandals created a sense that athletic departments had gotten out of control and threatened schools’ academic integrity. The commission noted in one report that 57 of the 106 schools then competing at the highest level of sports had been penalized by the NCAA in the 1980s, along with reports of athletes taking courses like "recreational leisure."
Putting the school president at the center of reform efforts was a key part of what the commission advocated.
"The Knight Commission’s message remains that presidential responsibility for all elements of university life doesn’t stop at the entry of its stadiums, arenas and playing fields." Amy Perko, the current executive director of the Knight Commission said in a statement Tuesday.
"As long as college sports are part of the academic enterprise, it’s the president’s job to ensure that its sports programs reflect the university values."
While Perko said presidents don’t need to manage the daily operations of an athletic department, she said more must be done "to better educate governing boards and new and aspiring presidents about their roles and responsibilities for athletics oversight."
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