Writing business

Inside a class of Penn grads in college athletics


PHILADELPHIA – “It’s hard for me to understand,” said Rich Michal. “Are women really better?

Michal, senior vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation, sat in a classroom on the University of Pennsylvania campus on a recent Saturday morning, surrounded by more than a dozen other academic administrators.

He was looking at a slide, enlarged on a screen in front of the class, that showed endorsements for athletes since the NCAA began allowing them to earn money outside of scholarships last year.

The data, Professor Karen Weaver explained, showed that women received more offers than men (although male athletes received more money overall). She added: “That’s why we’re here – to help you understand how things change.”

The class is part of a doctoral program in higher education management aimed at mid-career administrators looking to advance, many of whom hope to one day become college presidents. They fly in on weekends to study education policy and budgeting.

This weekend, the class had a two-day seminar on something a little different: sports.

For the two-day course, Weaver starts with the basics, including the role of the NCAA and the various divisions in college sports, as she often deals with people who haven’t taken sports.

But the fact that his program exists, Weaver said, speaks to athletics’ growing influence on campuses. Winning teams mean notoriety; scandals can bring down presidents; boosters are an increasingly powerful constituency; soccer coaches collect millions not to coach. Weaver covers all of this, but she also wants to give her students a practical introduction to NIL rules, Title IX compliance, and the The Big Ten’s Lavish New Media Rights Deal.

“It’s recognized that you can’t become a college president without really trying to understand athletics,” Weaver said in an interview after class. “And that’s especially important if you haven’t followed any sports.”

Michal added, “Will the NCAA survive in its current form or will it have to evolve if the Big Ten gets bigger and there’s even more money? It’s fascinating and really important for everyone in the class to know. Karen helps us raise awareness.

At one point during the course, Weaver raised the question of the new media rights agreement signed by the Big Ten, which is worth around $1 billion a year. She asked the students what they would do with the money if they were presidents of the Big Ten. “Please don’t spend it all on the football coach,” she joked.

The responses offered a cross-section of views on the purpose and direction of college sports.

Kristina Alimard, COO of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company, raised her hand and offered, “As a resident capitalist in the room, the only people who want to go to school XYZ for the women’s swimming team are the swimmers. When lots of kids say, “I want to go to XYZ school because of the football and basketball games. I would spend as much money as necessary to maintain dominance in any sport that drives enrollment at my school. ”

Rebecca Sale, senior director of education in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, said: “I would throw money at women’s soccer. I think you could attract people to women’s football. If you could pay for a football stadium, you could invest in something else. Are we trying to create fairness? »

“Is there anything, outside of moral and ethical issues, that says you have to spend that money on women’s sport, or can they take it all and spend it on whatever they want? asked Tim Folan, senior associate athletic director at Penn.

They could, Weaver replied, spend it on whatever they wanted.

When later asked where she thinks college sports is headed, Weaver said she’s worried about college basketball because football is the biggest revenue driver. The College Football Playoff operates outside of NCAA jurisdiction, she noted, and cited salaries of $13 million for coaches, prompting a class Division III administrator to say : “How are [the players] still student-athletes? How do we even have this conversation in the context of higher education? (The administrator was not authorized by her university to speak publicly.)

Weaver, 64, played college field hockey and then coached for several years before landing a job as an associate athletic director at Minnesota. She then served as athletic director at Penn State Abington, a Division III school. She graduated from the Penn program in 2009 and wrote her thesis on the launch of the Big Ten Network.

“I was fascinated because I was like, ‘These college presidents don’t know anything about the media. What are they doing?’ When I was writing and interviewing them, they weren’t sure how successful it was going to be, but, oh my God, it changed everything. A few years later, she spearheaded the addition of sports to the Penn curriculum and began teaching it in 2012. (There are other similar degree programs, but Weaver believes Penn is the only one with a sports component.)

Some proponents of college sports reform preach about reducing the money involved or preserving various ideals of the student-athlete. Weaver’s approach is less to editorialize about the direction of college sports than to accept its reality. His course is less philosophical and more practical.

There are people in academia — often non-sports fans, Weaver said — who tend to stay quiet when sports hit their campuses. But the goal of her class is to make these people feel comfortable enough to start participating in these conversations.

As she told her students, “Every leadership team, because of how quickly this environment is changing, needs to have this conversation: ‘Where do we stand in this era of transformation?’ I hope some of you feel able to go back to your campuses and say, “Let’s talk about this; let’s think about that. ”