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How the Knight Commission would recast college sports

The Knight Commission has long been an advocate for greater academic rigor in big-time college sports. Thursday it proposed new standards to try to combat the 'arms race' of athletic spending.

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NCAA interim president Jim Isch issued a statement supporting the principles of the commission’s report. But he noted a need for debate on some recommendations. Most notably, he objected to the immediate postseason penalty for teams with a graduation rate of less than 50 percent.

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“Our current penalty structure that accounts for improvement is fair and has the desired effect – an emphasis on academic success,” he said.

“There must be a bright line between college and professional sports; these recommendations will help to better distinguish that line,” said Leonard Elmore, a former college and pro basketball player, now the CEO of iHoops. Mr. Elmore is one of the 22 members of the commission, which has operated since 1989 with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Any implementation of recommendations would require university leaders to bring proposals to NCAA meetings, where there will probably be some resistance, “especially on the strong line about academic progress rates and how they might relate to being knocked out of post-season play,” says Pat Forde, a senior sports columnist at ESPN.

There’s more awareness now of athletes’ academic track records, but “whether that translates to a true movement of radically remaking the system – I don’t think so,” he says.

Kadence Otto, who teaches sport management at Western Carolina University, says she’s not confident the report will bring about significant change.

Even if some of the recommendations are implemented, the idea of rewarding schools for mediocre results, such as a 50 percent athlete graduation rate, would be like “rewarding parents for taking care of their children,” says Ms. Otto, past president of the Drake Group, a network of faculty working to defend academic integrity in the face of the growing college sport industry.