Office of the President
College sports are a uniquely American tradition. We gather with family and friends to cheer on our alma maters or favorite teams to victory, marvel at the pride and heart of the players and admire the dedication it takes to balance school and athletics. Americans are fortunate to share these experiences. More important are the opportunities created by college sports. Only in America do we see students learn outside the collegiate classroom through a sport they love.
But with the popularity of sports comes warranted scrutiny – no campus, conference or association is exempt from learning from the mistakes we’ve made or constantly striving to improve intercollegiate athletics. As an Association, our actions must reflect our belief in the primacy of academics, fairness for each college athlete and the protection of their health and well-being on and off the field.
Academics are the crux of our mission. And in higher education, an informed and engaged student body informs policy and guides change. Similarly, the student-athlete voice propels our academic initiatives. Across the country, college athletes are providing input to their national Student-Athlete Advisory Committees as they drive the discussion on issues such as time demands and academic support. These key issues define the experience of playing college sports, as they reflect students’ abilities to participate in other aspects of campus life and professional development. We must be vigilant to make changes that reflect their feedback and meet their needs. Ultimately, campuses have a moral and ethical responsibility to support students, especially those who may be at risk. We all must be cognizant – and candid with ourselves – about the individual needs of students so that when they arrive on campus, they truly have the means to succeed. That support should continue every day until graduation; for instance, in Division I, covering the full cost of attendance and providing both unlimited meals and multiyear scholarships are only fair.
Beyond academics and fairness, we must continually prioritize the health and well-being of student-athletes. While we cannot prevent every sports injury, we can provide exceptional care and support systems. Student-athletes must feel confident in reporting their physical and mental health concerns, for which the NCAA provides resources to campuses to foster such an environment. The Association is funding the largest prospective, longitudinal study of concussion ever conducted, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense. NCAA student-athletes will start reaping the benefits of this research in 2016, when the researchers will release their first round of findings.
Schools should continue to raise the bar on covering medical expenses. Student-athletes should never worry about remaining healthy due to monetary constraints, no matter where they play.
Education is a pillar in America, and NCAA sports are a pathway for many to access higher education. Through our united commitment to academics, fairness and well-being on every campus, in every committee and as an Association, I trust we can create opportunities worthy of the young people we value so much. College sports are embedded in the fabric of our society. We all bear responsibility for continuing to make them better.