Decades before women participated in intercollegiate athletics, before the NCAA divided into three divisions, before national championships existed, even before there was any such thing as an athletics director, college professors were working behind the scenes to ensure sports didn’t tug students too far from the classroom.
So as the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association celebrates its 25th year, members are also celebrating the longer history of faculty involvement in college athletics, which dates back some 140 years. And FARA has an additional reason to be excited this year, with the Division I membership set to vote in August on a restructuring plan that would give a vote on the Division I Board of Directors to a faculty athletics representative.
The restructuring is reminiscent of the era that brought FARA into existence. A Presidents Commission, formed at the 1984 NCAA Convention, endured for 13 years and pushed through initiatives such as restricting the size of coaching staffs; limiting how much time student-athletes can spend on their sports; and setting more demanding academic standards for Divisions I and II.
“When I became a faculty rep in 1986 there was a movement among presidents to gain influence and control over the NCAA,” said Alan Hauser, Appalachian State faculty athletics representative. The reps decided to unite as an association, Hauser added, as “an effort to be collaborative with the presidents as they were growing in power and influence.”
The partnership was natural, as the important issues for FARs – student-athlete well-being and academic integrity – were also pre-eminent issues for the Presidents Commission.
“We seized the moment,” said Carla Hay, a former FARA president who represented Marquette.
Not long after college sports’ genesis in 1852, faculty stepped in to help shape them. By the 1870s, some faculty feared “the enthusiasm of student-athletes for their athletics programs had greatly surpassed that of their academic pursuits,” Dr. Carol Barr of Massachusetts wrote in a history of faculty involvement in athletics published in 1999.
Today FARA works in all three divisions to protect the academic integrity of athletics and ensure the goals are consistent with the goals of the institution it represents.
“You really are the buffer between athletics and academics,” said Percy Bates, who was faculty athletics representative at Michigan for 22 years and stepped down in 2012. “ADs argue that they are interested in academics, but it’s not their primary job. I saw the academics as my primary job.”
In the late 1970s, a study revealed that many NCAA schools did not appoint a faculty athletics representative, and some FARs worked within the athletics department.
Today, in one of the few rules that govern who can serve as a faculty athletics representative, NCAA rules prohibit athletics department employees from serving in the role.
Members of FARA point to several successes for the organization: Dozens sit on committees across the three divisions; they have played significant roles in the push for increased academic standards for student-athletes; and, of course, they might soon have a vote on the Division I Board of Directors.
“I do think that FARA has learned – through various FARA committees, through positions we have taken, through programs at the national Convention – that there is the possibility of moving a mountain,” Hauser said.