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Athletics Reform Symposium Draws Heavy Hitters

November 11, 2003

Mary Ann Travis

mtravis@tulane.edu

Intercollegiate athletics -- everyone in higher education agrees -- could be better. National debates focus on such issues as the education of student-athletes and limited access to competition outside the traditional "Big-Time College Sports" teams. Tulane is hosting the National Symposium on Athletics Reform on Nov. 11 to address issues such as these, which are crucial to "bringing intercollegiate athletics back into the fold of our universities," says Tulane President Scott Cowen.

brandPresidents and athletics directors of all 117 NCAA Division I-A schools have been invited to the symposium, which will draw together scholars, NCAA leaders and athletics professionals to discuss what is needed in the way of reform. Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, is the keynote speaker for the event to be held at the Hotel InterContinental. Thomas McMillen, vice chair of Sky Venture Capital and former Maryland Congressman and NBA player, will moderate a panel discussion about athletics reform.

Panel members include William G. Bowen, president of the Andrew K. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton University; James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan; and Cowen. A second panel discussion also will address athletics reform but will focus on postseason play in football.

Led by Len Elmore, a sports analyst for ESPN and CBS and former NBA player, the panel will include conference commissioners and athletics directors. Bowen is co-author of two books about academics and athletics -- The Game of Life (2001) and Reclaiming the Game (2003). Using data from elite universities, Bowen documents that student-athletes, who are favored in the admission process, have lower grades than non- athletes. Bowen makes several proposals for changing the climate of college sports, but says changes call for cooperation.

"Because intercollegiate athletics is a competitive enterprise, collaboration is essential to the success of any reform agenda. 'Going it alone' will almost surely lead to nothing but losing records and demoralization. Institutions and conferences must work together under strong presidential leadership."

Strong presidential leadership is a theme Cowen has repeatedly stressed as he has advocated athletics reform during the past six months. He says, "Tulane University is perceived to be an institution that has thoroughly examined these issues as part of the [Tulane] board's review of athletics last year as well as playing a leading role in putting a spotlight on this important topic."

Ever since the Tulane board's decision in June to keep the university competing in Division I-A -- the highest level of intercollegiate athletics -- Cowen has vigorously expressed concern about the inequities of the Bowl Championship Series alliance -- an arrangement between six athletics conferences and several television networks, primarily ABC, for broadcasting four postseason football bowl games: the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta.

On a yearly rotation, one of these bowl games determines the winner of the national championship, and the broadcasting contracts are worth millions of dollars. But the alliance excludes Tulane and 53 other Division I-A football teams that are not in Bowl Championship Series conferences. Cowen has led the formation of the Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform, which includes the presidents of non-Bowl Championship Series schools intent on changing postseason play to become more inclusive and fair.

The U.S. Congress has paid attention to Cowen's concerns about unfairness. In September, Cowen testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee during its hearings regarding anti- trust issues of the Bowl Championship Series alliance. And at Inside Tulane press time, Cowen was scheduled to appear on Oct. 29 before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

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