College sports provoke so much passion in our country, and even college presidents are not immune to the thrill of game day. But a university’s athletics program is so much more than what you see on any court, field or track.
Athletics provides a pathway to opportunity for students throughout their lives. For many, playing a sport provides the chance to go to college – sometimes debt-free. College athletics teaches students about leadership, teamwork and critical thinking.
As chair of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, I saw all that goes on behind the scenes on a national level to support students. On Aug. 4, I closed my tenure in NCAA leadership, and I believe all of college sports will benefit from changes we made over the past 18 months. When I took the helm, we were beginning to find our way in a new structure. Now, we are stronger and more unified as a division. We have found a way to focus on what truly matters: the students.
Since January 2015, we have made great strides to improve college athletics, highlighted by the August 2015 strategic summit that brought together leaders from all over the country to set a Division I agenda focused on education and our values.
We have seen our graduation rates and Academic Progress Rates soar to all-time highs, and this past spring we adopted the strongest set of academic misconduct rules the division has ever had.
We have relaxed other rules to provide more flexibility for students who want to pursue professional sports careers or interests outside athletics.
Perhaps our greatest achievement is that we have made the voices of student-athletes a vital part of all decisions we make. I’m proud to say we listen to their input at every level of Division I governance.
The work is not yet complete. Division I will face many challenges, most immediately adjusting our rules to help our students better balance the time they spend on athletics, academics and other opportunities that are part of a full college experience.
As Division I moves forward, its leaders must remain focused on its priorities: providing opportunities for learning, keeping students healthy and safe, and preserving the fairness and integrity we all value in college sports.
Harris Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and past president of the Division I Board of Directors.