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Volume 25 No. 216
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Strong Oversight Of Athletics Needed By School Presidents, BODs

Institutional alignment, the state of college football and the changing landscape of higher education were among the hot topics debated by Tulane President Emeritus Dr. Scott Cowen and Univ. of Houston President Dr. Renu Khator on the opening day of the ’18 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletic Forum. The session, moderated by Arizona State sports law professor Glenn Wong, began with a discussion on the role a university president and the BOD should play in athletics. Khator, who also serves as Univ. of Houston System Chancellor, said she believes in “very strong, direct oversight by the president and the board.” She said it is “not just about engagement,” noting boards can be very engaged with the inner-workings of certain teams. What is needed, she said, is the “right kind of engagement.” Cowen feels as though boards are “not providing the appropriate oversight of intercollegiate athletics” even though they are “one of the biggest reputational risks” schools have, pointing to numerous athletic scandals in recent years that reflect poorly on universities. Khator believes the president’s responsibility is the students, and leaders should treat athletics equally with the rest of school. Cowen said accountability for athletics starts with the board and the president. He said, “I wish there was a law that said if the president gets fired, so does the board.” He added, “If the president ends up losing his or her job … I suspect the board is culpable, and I think boards have to take much more seriously what it means to provide oversight and set the tone from the top with the president.”

THE MORE THE MERRIER: Khator said she thinks expansion of the CFP would be a “good idea because otherwise institutions get left out.” She said not giving more teams opportunities is “hurting so many students.” Khator noted athletic performance affects a school’s donor base, student engagement and identity. Khator: “You’re not just hurting athletics. ... You’re actually impacting the entire student body.” Cowen, although a proponent of CFP expansion, is not confident of the prospects. He said, “Sure, there should be eight teams. It will never happen in my lifetime.” He doesn’t believe those with the power to make expansion happen are interested in doing so.


  • Khator, on the impact athletics can have on a university: “A mediocre athletics program for an institution like mine is a liability, but a nationally competitive athletics program is an asset.”
  • Cowen, on where the landscape of elite intercollegiate athletics is headed: “The richer are going to get richer and the poor are going to continue to get poorer, and the gap is going to get larger and it’s not going to close.”
  • Cowen, on the impact of athletic scandals: “It taints higher education and erodes trust and respect in higher education. Quite honestly, higher education is under siege, forgetting athletics, for lots of other things. We don’t need athletics to be one more thing piling on to our reputation.”