And Most of Our Athletes Will Be Working in Something Other Than a Sports Colloquium

If you would like to see what modern university presidents think about defending academic freedom, let me submit the following story that is running through the sports economist community.

The NCAA on Monday pulled the plug on its Scholarly Colloquium, canceling financial support for future academic conferences and announcing plans to wind down its investment in the forum’s scholarly journal, following a sometimes-contentious six-year run.

The news—delivered by James L. Isch, the NCAA’s chief operating officer—came during a meeting of the colloquium’s Executive Board on Monday night, just hours before this year’s colloquium was set to begin, on Tuesday morning.

Citing poor attendance at the annual conference, a lack of profitability of the journal, and a failure to influence public policy, Mr. Isch said the NCAA planned to redirect its investment into “targeted research” that its member colleges wanted, according to academic leaders present at the meeting.

Emphasis mine. When academics attend an academic conference, they expect to have the freedom to present materials they prepare in an honest inquiry into the truth. The presidents had been more explicit in December, saying they wanted “directed research.” As Dean Post of Yale Law School states in the second article, the NCAA is using a corporate model to use its research dollars rather than an academic one.

As you might guess, the research done by the colloquium isn’t all that flattering of the organization:

But as Mr. [Wallace] Renfro [NCAA policy advisor] watched presentations at last year’s colloquium, which focused on changes the NCAA has made in its academic policies in recent years, he did not see a variety of perspectives.

“I was hearing virtually one voice being sung by a number of people … and it was relatively critical of the NCAA’s academic-reform effort,” he said. “I don’t care whether it was critical or not, but I care about whether there are different perspectives presented.”

He became even more concerned when he learned of the theme for next month’s colloquium, which is to be held in conjunction with the association’s annual convention: “Economic Inequality Within the NCAA.”

“It’s certainly provocative. And it may be pejorative,” Mr. Renfro said. “But it clearly does not represent a notion that you’re going to examine financial differences. It says you’re going to talk about financial inequalities.”

After looking at some of the titles of the research to be presented in January, he became concerned that the conference was beginning to look ideological.

I work on a campus where there are all kinds of conferences that have a particular ideological viewpoint. I do not recall a university president or any other administrator, ever, expressing concern for different viewpoints. Why now? 

It is the NCAA’s right to fund or not fund research it sees fit. But all of its gauzy, feel-good advertising about student-athletes is meant to build a brand based on amateurism, with amateurs that spend most of their days in academic pursuits (even if those pursuits are sometimes less than rigorous.) This is simply the latest display of the hypocrisy with which the NCAA operates.