By Matthew Kredell
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined USC Athletic Director Pat Haden March 16 at the university’s Town and Gown ballroom for a conversation on the state of governance in college sports and its impact on student-athletes.
USC Price School of Public Policy Professor Raphael Bostic moderated the discussion, which was a collaboration between the USC Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, for which Bostic serves as director, and the USC Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. The event was part of the Bedrosian Center’s “Leading from the West” Series.
“The Bedrosian Center is dedicated to fostering effective governance as an essential part of ensuring the betterment of communities,” Bostic said. “Through our outreach activities with a diverse set of leaders and decision makers, like Condoleezza Rice and Pat Haden, we are able to show that governance and the public enterprise is about more than just government.”
Bostic framed the evening’s discussion as focusing on “how you run an athletic program, how should we think about the structure of college athletics, and what is role of the student athlete in today’s collegiate environment, university environment, but also the broader society.”
Haden was happy to partner with USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott and Bostic to kick off his Athletic Director’s Speakers Series in order to better utilize the strengths and interdisciplinary diversity of the university.
“We are trying to elevate the conversation around athletics here at USC and nationally as well,” Haden said. “Most importantly, we want to integrate better with the university.”
With recent changes to the NCAA’s governance structure, a new college football playoff system and legal challenges regarding the compensation of student-athletes, policy issues in college athletics have been heavily covered in the news over the past year.
“Governance of collegiate sports is a topic that raises significant legal and labor issues, as well as issues of fairness,” Knott said in his introduction. “It also goes to the heart of what is the definition of a student-athlete versus a professional. The governance of collegiate sports has significant economic and educational consequences for universities, student-athletes and our society.”
Rice, who currently works as a professor at Stanford University where she served as provost in the 1990s, and Haden were two of the 13 inaugural members of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee during the last season.
In August, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors restructured how schools and conferences will govern themselves, granting a greater level of autonomy to the “power five” conferences, consisting of the Pacific-12, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences. The new model also created a council to handle day-to-day policy and legislative decisions that will give more control to athletic directors rather than college presidents and provide representation for student-athletes.
“I think the governance model was broken for a long time, and I’m hoping some of the changes will make it a better governance model,” Rice said.
Haden thinks that additional substantial modifications could be made in the future.
“When you have 300 [or so] schools, all with a different perspective, I think it really is ungovernable,” Haden said. “I think there’s a chance you’ll see some dramatic changes in the years ahead.”
The greater autonomy allows conferences such as the Pac-12, of which USC is a part, the option to improve the financial situation for student-athletes. The Pac-12 already acted in guaranteeing athletic scholarships for four years. The power five conferences jointly agreed to adopt a full cost-of-attendance measure designed to cover living expenses that fall outside athletic scholarships. Changes can go into effect in the fall.
Haden explained that the move was necessary because some student-athletes were running out of money to cover essential costs such as food. The time devoted to their sport on top of academic studies makes it difficult to work a job.
Another issue is that, outside of football and basketball, most athletes aren’t on full scholarships. A baseball or volleyball player might get a 30 percent athletic scholarship, and by NCAA rules, athletic aid can’t be combined with university aid, Haden explained. Haden said he will put forth a proposal to the NCAA to allow needy students to get financial aid on top of partial athletic scholarships.
While people think of college athletics as big business, the reality is that university athletic departments struggle to break even, the speakers noted. Haden said that 19 of USC’s 21 sports lose about $2 million a year, basketball loses a smaller amount, and the money made from football is used to pay for the other sports.
“This is not a model you would follow if you were forming a business,” Rice said.
Rice expressed that the lawsuits seeking pay for college athletes might not be happening if the issues of full cost of attendance and four-year scholarships had been resolved sooner.
“I don’t believe that student athletes are or should be considered employees of the university… That to me is a complete reversal of the concept of collegiate athletics,” she said.