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Knight Commission calls for restraints on college athletic spending

The watchdog Knight Commission Thursday made recommendations to keep the financial road hogs of college sports in their own lanes, even as finalization of new conference alignments appeared to make such a task impossible.

After an 18-month study of the "arms race" at the elite level of collegiate athletics, the commission proposed public transparency and revised balance in hopes of motivating school presidents to curb "unsustainable" athletic spending.

The study found that the Big 12 and Big 10 conferences, both of which have been just reshaped by high-profile football powers in search of additional money streams, had expenditures per athlete outpacing student funding by 9.0 and 6.8 percent, respectively.

Moves by Nebraska (Big 12 to Big 10) and Colorado (Big 12 to Pac-10) for more lucrative payouts, plus Texas' subsequent use of its winning brand to demand extra millions in holding together the rest of the Big 12, reinforced the growing Have-vs.-Have Not lopsidedness.

Knight commission co-chairmen William Kirwan, the University of Maryland chancellor, and SMU president Gerald Turner admitted that the conference shuffles will lead to yet greater imbalance, not only between the large and small leagues but also within the top conferences.

But the additional funds generated by the most successful athletic departments, Turner argued, simply "get absorbed by higher coaching salaries and whatever else is needed to stay on top, and nothing really changes, except the health of all the schools."

By urging disclosure of athletic and academic spending by all NCAA members, the commission contends that college presidents will be empowered to "work collectively" to keep athletic spending in check. The report predicts, at the current rate, athletic budgets at the top programs will exceed $250 million by 2020, advancing the "winner-take-all" pattern.

The commission recommended requiring a 50 percent team graduation rate, for sharing in conference members' postseason TV money, to reduce the trend toward the professionalization of college sports, among other things.

The recent mad scramble for more income through better conference affiliations are in direct contrast to the Knight suggestions. "We didn't get into this extraordinary fiscal imbalance overnight," Kirwan said, "and we're not going to get out of it tomorrow. What we're doing, we hope, is starting down a path that will bring the right kind of balance in expenditures on athletics and academics."

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