NCAA Structural Check-up
Sept. 10, 2001
By Gary T. Brown
The NCAA News
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- It's time for the NCAA governance structure's first physical, and the NCAA membership is being asked to conduct the exam.
This month, NCAA member presidents, athletics directors, senior woman administrators, faculty athletics representatives, coaches and conference commissioners will be surveyed on the health of the recently adopted federated structure.
The new structure, implemented in 1997 and designed to provide each of the three divisions more autonomy, is four years old -- old enough to walk on its own but young enough to be pointed in a different direction if need be.
Part of the review is a matter of course -- new programs always are evaluated after a period of time -- but those in charge say it also is a chance to officially address what until now has been anecdotal feedback on how the structure is performing. In addition, it is an opportunity to glean other information about related matters, such as the role and performance of the national office staff and pertinent issues facing the NCAA in the coming years.
Those coordinating the review are members of an Executive Committee ad hoc committee appointed in January. They are Bob Lawless, current Executive Committee chair and president at the University of Tulsa, Charles Wethington, former chair of the Executive Committee and president emeritus at the University of Kentucky, Gladys Styles-Johnston, president at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and former chair of the Division II Presidents Council, and Thomas Courtice, president of Ohio Wesleyan University and current chair of the Division III Presidents Council. Ann Die, former chair of the Division III Presidents Council, had initially been appointed to the group, but Courtice replaced her when she recently retired from her presidential post at Hendrix College. All five have hands-on experience with the structure, and all but Lawless and Courtice are no longer serving terms within the structure, which makes for a nice blend of experience and objectivity.
The group spent much of August conducting in-person interviews with members of the presidential bodies, Management Councils, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members and selected national office staff.
What are they looking for? Right now, it's for an honest opinion, according to Lawless.
"The general feeling is that the structure is working well, but are there other things we ought to know? This gives us an opportunity to get some feedback from someone other than ourselves. If members say there are ways that it could work better, we'd certainly like to have that input," he said.
Besides the in-person interviews, input will come from surveys that athletics administrators will complete this month, as well as from phone interviews scheduled with a stratified random sample of 150 CEOs.
The survey probes five areas:
"It just makes sense to at least evaluate where we are," Lawless said of the survey. "It's prudent to review the structure, make a general evaluation, determine areas where it's working and areas where it might need to be fine-tuned. At the same time, we're getting feedback on areas of service that members would like to see improved.
"That's the basis for the study."
Not a call for change
Since the federated structure was implemented August 1, 1997, the NCAA has conducted four Conventions that have been quite different from past annual gatherings. Maintaining the Convention's effectiveness, in fact, has been one of the challenges of the new structure. Divisions II and III still act on legislation via the one-school, one-vote system each January, but the need for Division I members to attend has waned. Division I "delegates" now carry out legislative matters twice a year through their Management Council and Board of Directors representatives. Various meetings and panel discussions have helped bring Division I back into the fold, but the "cohesive" atmosphere of past Conventions has changed.
The representative form of governance in Division I also is not without its critics. Some say that the level of communication between representatives within the structure and the rest of Division I is uneven, thus leaving some members feeling disenfranchised. Some outside the structure believe their say in the process has somehow been diminished.
On the other hand, few would disagree that each division now has more control over the issues that directly affect it. Also, in Division I, proponents of the new structure point to an increased efficiency in dealing with legislation -- proposals that are not controversial are adopted more quickly, and those that do not carry such a consensus can be studied in detail in a more ongoing and productive manner.
The evaluation, then, would seem to be the scale to weigh those and other comments.
"We've all heard opinions about how things are working," Wethington said, "but there needed to be specific questions asked so that we could respond to what members are thinking."
"It's akin to what happens on any campus after reaccreditation," said Die. "You stop, you do a self-study, you look at where your institution is, what its mission and strategic plan are -- it's a normal part of reassessment. Such a process is good once a year. And with the kind of major reorganization the NCAA underwent, at some point -- and four years is certainly not too short a time period -- you have to stop and look at where you are."
Wethington said that so far, people are willing to do just that. "There seems to be a sincere interest in letting the ad hoc committee know what they think about the present structure," he said.
Lawless said the feedback so far is "that there's more satisfaction that the structure is achieving some of the goals that were sought when the structure was changed than there is dissatisfaction." But he also added, "I don't think anyone thinks it's perfect and there aren't things that couldn't be adjusted to make it work in certain areas."
But Lawless spoke for the entire group when he said that the stu dy wasn't a product of a cry for change.
"If you develop a program of any sort in your business or industry or academia, hopefully at some point in time you'll evaluate that program," he said. "Program evaluation is a norm in all facets of life and most people are familiar with it.
"I suppose there's always anxiety when this occurs, and I've heard some strange stories about what this study supposedly is designed to do, but we really don't have any ulterior motive or anything lurking. It's an evaluation we owe to the membership."
Lawless expects the evaluation to be completed by April 2002, when the ad hoc committee will present its findings to the Executive Committee, the presidential bodies and the management Councils. Any suggestions for change at that point would be funneled back through the structure as proposed legislation.
The schedule for the ad hoc committee to review the governance structure:
Questionnaire designed to gauge feedback on structure, staff
Filling out forms is part of any check-up. But the survey being sent to athletics administrators this month should give NCAA "doctors" an in-depth look at a number of issues.
In addition to gauging the effectiveness of the NCAA's new governance structure, the survey also probes about the service provided by the NCAA national office staff and whether the principles of the Association are in fact being carried out. The Executive Committee felt it was appropriate to ask about the role and effectiveness of the staff since the national office relocated to Indianapolis in 1999. And asking about NCAA principles coincides with the Executive Committee's establishment of priorities in January 2000 that it will use to guide Association business in the coming years.
"We decided that if we're going to do a survey we might as well get as much information as we can," said Executive Committee Chair Bob Lawless.
The survey is divided into five parts, the first of which takes the membership's pulse on whether the federated governance structure is working as it should, particularly whether it provides institutional CEOs with greater control and leadership opportunities, whether each division is enjoying more autonomy and whether the new structure is more efficient.
Other parts of the survey ask for feedback on the NCAA headquarters and the role of the national office staff, particularly whether the staff is assuming a greater leadership role, as charged by the Executive Committee last year.
The survey also asks members to gauge how effective the NCAA has been in dealing with the 16 core principles defined in the Association's Constitution.
Feedback in all those areas, said ad hoc committee member Charles Wethington, will be invaluable to the Executive Committee as it steers a future course for the NCAA.
"We've directed our study toward getting comments about specific issues or matters," he said. "One, we want to know what people think are the strengths and weaknesses of the structure, two, we want to determine what the membership thinks about the role of the office and how that role is being carried out since the move, and three, we want to know about the major issues that face the NCAA, and then make some observation about the ability of the NCAA to address them."
Lawless said it is important for administrators, particularly presidents, to complete the survey with an honest pen.
"It's critical that campus chief executive officers play a major leadership role in the review process," Lawless said. "We strongly encourage that active participation."