Nearly 20 years ago, Division I began a certification program designed to resemble the accreditation process for the academic side of colleges and universities. Spurred on in part by reforms advocated by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, certification allowed schools to bring together representatives from across campus to examine athletics policies, ethics, academics and finances.
The program that required institutions to complete thorough self-examinations every few years has been tweaked since then, and areas of emphasis have come and gone, but the process hasn’t undergone significant modification since the vote to create it in 1993.
That’s about to change.
Fed up with a process perceived as expensive and overly burdensome on campuses, some presidents began calling for a change to the athletics certification program early in 2010. Campus leaders were tired of the minutiae often associated with athletics certification, saying the reviews were intense audits designed not to improve the student-athlete experience but instead to find out whether an institution could answer questions correctly. Institutions claimed the costs could climb well into six figures for every recertification.
NCAA President Mark Emmert heard the presidents and directed the NCAA staff and the Division I Committee on Athletics Certification to revise the certification process to be less burdensome, less expensive and yet still meaningful.
What emerged is a proposed transformation to a program that provides an annual accounting on the health of Division I in a format that will allow for some comparison between individual athletics departments within subdivisions.
The membership will have the opportunity to review a timeline for changes and discuss how the data can be used on campus at the 2013 NCAA Convention in Dallas.
The proposal shifts much of the burden for the process from campuses to the national office. The reports will be compiled using data that campuses are required to send to the NCAA through other systems – including academic data from the Graduation Success Rate compilation and financial information from the dashboard indicators project. About 80 percent of the information for the new program will be provided through those types of reports, with the remainder to be created on campus.
Committee on Athletics Certification chair Joanne Glasser, president at Bradley, pointed out that when certification was created in 1993, much of that data was either not collected or was in the early stages of collection.
“The certification process helped bring about many of these changes,” Glasser said. “It’s time that the certification process evolves and reflects the changing needs and emphases of college athletics.”
The new program, named the Division I Institutional Performance Program, will focus on four main areas of review:
• Analysis and review of data already being collected (Academic Progress Rate, Graduation Success Rate)
• Academic support available
• Elgibility certification
• Entering academic profiles
• Student-athlete survey administered by NCAA national office
• Metrics and current resources available
• Centerpiece of new program
• Financial information currently provided as part of NCAA financial dashboards
• Analyze metrics and current resources available
Inclusion (gender and ethnicity)
• Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act data
• Campus diversity information
• Analyze metrics and current resources available
The areas were chosen after careful consideration, said longtime committee member Casey Comoroski, associate athletics director at Missouri State. Student-athlete experience and academics were obvious choices, she said.
“That’s what we’re all about. It’s why we’re here, it’s why we exist,” she said. “Those two are critical without any hesitation.”
Fiscal management, which returned to the list after having been dropped several years ago, will help institutions get a better picture of how they compare to similar schools in budgeting. Inclusion is important to ensure that “we are giving every opportunity to every individual to succeed (in athletics),” Comoroski said.
Because the program will use data already collected, it will allow for a consistency in analyzing data and evaluations among different institutions annually. Under the old process, institutions were certified every 10 years (at the beginning of the program, it was once every five years). Condensing the time frame will help schools achieve the true mission of the program: improving the student-athlete experience.
That goal will require different things on different campuses, Glasser said. That will parallel the way certification didn’t require all institutions to make the same decisions in order to adhere to common principles.
“We don’t want to create a situation where each department across the country is homogenized and loses its distinctive traits, but we do need to maintain a system where basic standards and values are upheld, with each campus doing so in their own unique campus culture,” she said. “We would like people to pursue excellence, not some unattainable nirvana of perfection.”
The committee is also continuing to seek membership feedback on the process, content and timeline for the program. Data collection is expected to begin next year and be phased in over a two-year period. Then the data will be shared in aggregate, and the membership will be asked to react. The initial data and membership feedback will drive any discussion of benchmarks or accountability measures.
No matter the outcome of that discussion, the committee encourages the membership to complete the institutionally created and presidentially approved improvement plans already in place, particularly in the case of gender and diversity plans.
The goal of the program is to prompt athletics departments to reflect on whether they are performing at the highest level they can achieve, then take action to ensure their student-athletes are receiving the best possible experience. The membership will be deeply involved in setting any accountability measures, which could include remediation plans, peer-expert visits or in-person hearings.
Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch, who chaired the Committee on Athletics Certification from 2007 to 2010, said any accountability measures should focus on the quality of the athletics department and its meeting of standards, not whether a particular question was answered correctly.
“It takes a huge amount of work to have your records straight, and that’s one of the problems of under-
resourced institutions and changing personnel. Suddenly, you’re supposed to look back five or 10 years,” he said. “There should be a simpler but more standard format.”
Officials hope the change to the new process will produce that simpler format, with the added bonus of providing accountability through public access to a report card of how Division I is performing overall.
Kansas State President Kirk Schulz believes a little sunshine in individual athletics departments would help in other ways, as well. Since he and Kansas State Athletics Director John Currie started within two weeks of each other in 2009, the Wildcats have opened up their doors to the public, handing out contracts at news conferences announcing renewals and allowing outsiders to see their finances.
Glasser argued that accountability was not the purpose of a certification program, although it may be an incidental benefit. Instead, such a program should provide a standard that institutions can strive to achieve, not a punishment they try to avoid.
The peer-review team visits could be replaced with more focused “peer-expert” visits for institutions that meet certain criteria.
Comoroski said that while the peer-review visit will not take place for every single school, those that really need it will get the experience. Before her service on the committee, Comoroski spent four years as a peer reviewer. She said the visit was valuable to both the school being visited and those doing the visiting.
“When you send a peer-review team to look at the self-study and talk to individuals and faculty members and student-athletes to see what is happening on campus, it helps verify what they are doing and what they are lacking,” Comoroski said. “We could see what they were lacking and how we could help.”
The peer-expert visits in the new program, she said, will serve the same purpose but only for those who really need it.
Schulz has led peer-review teams in the past (such teams always include a peer president). While he generally supports the changes to the program and acknowledged that some of the things done on a visit could be accomplished through a report only, he said the visit did provide some benefits that can’t be replicated.
“There are positive things to be gained by having a set of eyes on the ground looking at facilities, talking directly to student-athletes, things that you’re simply not going to get in a report,” Schulz said. “Do you need a team of seven people to visit somewhere and spend three days? I don’t think so. But some of those things you’ve simply got to have somebody look at.”
The rules compliance/governance portion of the old athletics certification program does not reappear in the new iteration. Staff and the committee believed that so many places within the NCAA already promote rules compliance (enforcement being the most prominent) that having a component in the certification process was extraneous.
“There is so much being monitored and overseen, it was more of a redundancy to continue to include it,” Comoroski said. “To be honest, there is so much oversight in rules compliance that we felt it didn’t really need to be included in (this) process.”
For all the acknowledged improvements, some in the membership will miss the service they believe certification provided.
“It required a huge input and it’s costly, but at the same time my reaction following the process was one of satisfaction,” Tulsa President Steadman Upham said. “It helped the rest of campus understand what was going on in athletics. It allowed the athletics and academic side to get much better acquainted. We had a few hundred people that the process touched on our campus. But I know the staff was overburdened, and it was bureaucratic.”
The value in certification, some believe, is in the opportunities for improvement the program provided. But those who advocate the evolution of the program believe the proposed changes will not lose that key component and may, in fact, allow for more opportunities for schools to see where their deficiencies lie and learn how to progress.
“(A certification program) is very useful,” said Hatch. “I think a lot of the ‘B’ operations have become ‘A’ operations and a lot of the ‘C’ operations have become ‘B’ operations because of it. That’s the most valuable thing – not that a lot of outliers have been found but the overall improvement of college athletics. We should be in a state of constant improvement.”
Glasser cautioned that if this iteration of certification doesn’t meet the intended goals, further change is possible. In fact, as the program is being developed, the committee is open to feedback from the membership that could cause a shift in course.
“The goal is to provide institutions an opportunity to review in a broader campus environment whether their athletics program is operating in a manner that is consistent with the values, mission and goals of the institution and demonstrate that they meet Association-wide standards for their practices in the four areas of emphasis. … If it doesn’t do that, we haven’t done our job and we should be changing it even further,” she said.
The question shouldn’t be whether institutions meet NCAA standards, Glasser said, but whether schools are fulfilling the basic promises they make to their student-athletes with regard to the four areas of emphasis.
“Each institution has to answer to itself as much as to the NCAA as to whether their athletics program is upholding the promises related to the student-athlete experience, inclusion, academics and finances,” she said. “Each campus will benefit in different ways.”
For Upham, the goal of a certification or certification-like program is simple: integrity.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I know (NCAA President) Mark (Emmert) is wrestling with this, also,” he said. “We’ve just got to have a better grasp of personal responsibility.”
The Committee on Athletics Certification hopes that the transformation will spur institutions to take that leap toward more personal responsibility, which in turn ensures that more athletics departments will practice what the NCAA preaches.
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of NCAA Champion magazine.