Recently, the highest-profile issues in higher education leadership are related to college sports. The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges wants to keep athletics accountable, starting with the foundation of their governing bodies.
For many, one of the most exciting parts of the college experience is game day. But more recently, college athletics have been marred by a wave of high-profile leadership issues that have clouded team accomplishments, such as the Ohio State University and University of Maryland football programs, where coach Urban Meyer inappropriately handled domestic abuse allegations and one player died after institutional procedures failed to identify a heatstroke, respectively.
Now, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) is recommending university governing boards keep athletics accountable by applying the same review process as they do for other parts of the college experience, including finances, curriculum, strategic planning, and educational quality.
“Governing boards must recognize that accountability for their athletic programs is no different than their responsibility for institutional finances, curriculum, or strategic planning,” said AGB President Richard D. Legon, in a press release. “Given its legitimate role in institutional culture, athletics is integral to fulfilling an institution’s mission and educational purpose.”
The group’s comments, highlighted in the AGB Board of Directors’ “Statement on Governing Boards’ Responsibilities for Intercollegiate Athletics,” also include three principles an athletics governing body should work toward:
- Keeping all athletic policies accountable and in line with their fiduciary responsibilities.
- Upholding the integrity of the athletics program and ensuring it advances the institution’s overall educational mission.
- Creating systematic approaches for upholding all responsibilities regarding a university’s athletic program.
David Miles, chair of AGB’s Board of Directors and a trustee of Drake University, also said in the release: “Boards must find balance in their approach to oversight of athletics. Too often, this is an area in which trustees overreach—or worse, act as fans—and exert improper influence. But neither can their responsibility for real and appropriate review be delegated to any other body without running very real financial, mission, or reputational risks.”
AGB also called on the organizations deeply involved in college athletics, such as the NCAA, NAIA, and athletic conferences, to recognize that trustees also have a responsibility to get involved in the governance structures of university athletic programs.
“The public is watching—and failures in this area are adding to the erosion of trust in higher education,” Legon said. “College sports is not an optional responsibility for board members; it’s part of the job.”