Sports Law Blog
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Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The Lost NCAA Conference
In 2002, John Thelin noted:
"[I]n recent years there has been a groundswell of excellent scholarly works dealing with intercollegiate athletics. The topic has both endurance and significance now that such disciplines as history, economics, law, literary analysis, and political science have been brought to bear on the serious study of college sports. Don't hold your breath for any strong connection between research and reform. As the scholarship on college sports gets better, the educational and ethical problems of college sports get worse."In 2006, apparently unaware of such a groundswell, and noting the lack of such research, Dr. Myles Brand and the NCAA decided to sponsor an academic conference to encourage scholars to study college sport.
"The NCAA decided to sponsor the academic conference, he [Brand] said, because it wanted to involve faculty members not in role they sometimes play on their campuses — helping to oversee and govern the sports programs — but in their primary role as scholars. 'The idea was that there’s another role for faculty in intercollegiate athletics that we haven’t taken up at the NCAA, and that’s to treat intercollegiate athletics as the subject matter for research,' said Brand, a philosopher who was president of Indiana University before taking the reins at the NCAA. 'We thought it would be helpful if the NCAA would be supportive of that effort.' "As a result, the NCAA announced it would host a conference: The 2007 Conference on Intercollegiate Athletics and Higher Education in America an "inaugural, academic, juried conference...intended to summarize scholarships from the last several years on the context of intercollegiate athletics in higher education in America and role of sport in American culture."
I found out about the conference when I was contacted by an NCAA staff member and asked to serve on the conference abstract review board. As the months went by, and after submitting 7 abstracts and previously published papers (per the conference guidelines), I contacted the NCAA to determine the status of the conference and find out when I could expect to receive abstracts or papers to review. It seemed to me time was running out. That's when I found out the conference had been postponed. No formal announcement, no press release on the NCAA website, nothing. And more interestingly, no abstracts or papers to review.
That's when I made a few phone calls and found out that another reviewer had also not received any material to review. After a few more phone calls and a few emails back and forth with NCAA staffers, I was told the conference had been "postponed" because of a lack of interest on the part of scholars. Unable to determine how many scholars had submitted papers, I began contacting several individuals and kept hearing back that they, too, had submitted to the conference. But, evidently there was not enough interest...
Then a story appeared--citing a lack of quality papers, Dr. Brand postponed the conference and the "spin" began:
"...when he looked at the papers — 'and having been in the academy for 40 years, I think I can tell the difference between a good paper and something that’s not high quality,' Brand said — he saw too many of the latter and too few of the former, he said."Okay, so what's the problem? The NCAA and Dr. Brand didn't like the papers submitted. It's their conference and if they want to take their academic "ball" and go home, so what? A reader may simply say, "What's the big deal?"
But, as an academic I think it's relevant to point out several things that shed light on the NCAA organizational and institutional cultures:
1) I was asked by the “nice people” in charge of the postponed NCAA conference to serve on the conference’s review committee, but never received a single submission (inferior or otherwise) to review.
2) Since the only faculty members identified in the article as submitting papers or abstracts to the postponed conference are Drake Group members (who are often identified by Dr. Brand as ill-informed faculty who have their "facts" wrong), Dr. Brand’s comments indirectly and very subtly disparage the scholarship of such scholars,while not mentioning anyone by name, and actually not commenting on any specific work. Maybe all the deficient scholarship was submitted by NCAA Faculty Athletic Representatives? Of course, we can’t say any such thing, since the process is a blind-review one. (Unless Dr. Brand saw the names of the authors.) Dr. Brand’s comments are similar to those found in a non-apologetic apology that actually denigrates those who criticize the individual.
3) I volunteered (as I have on two previous occasions) to help the NCAA in planning their next conference.
Now the NCAA has announced that in 2008 they will convene a "Scholarly Colloquium on College Sports"
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education "The gathering next year will feature four invited speakers who will be asked to talk about what kind of research is needed — for example, a closer look at athlete or fan behavior, or whether sports has a negative effect on certain minority groups — and speculate on the consequences further study might have on NCAA policies."
As Brad Schultz on Journal of Sports Media noted: "The NCAA’s announcement of the new event said its theme would be “College Sports: A Legitimate Focus for Scholarly Inquiry,” and noted that it would feature “invited scholars of international repute” — suggesting that submissions would not be welcomed."
It seems pretty apparent to this "ill-informed" faculty member that the NCAA (or at least Dr. Brand) has little interest in a peer-reviewed academic conference. The NCAA tried that and they didn't like the submissions. Instead of rejecting individual submissions, or allowing "their" invited reviewers to perform their reviewer function, Dr. Brand unilaterally canceled the conference. He did not postpone the conference, he changed the format, the purpose, and the participants. In addition the NCAA and it's representatives and spokespeople disparaged the academic integrity of all those who submitted to the aborted conference, noting:
"We're hoping to get more people in nonkinesiology departments, people who don't do research on sport because it's not front and center in their disciplines, to come out of the academic closet, so to speak, and study sport," he said. "College sports have a tremendous impact on our educational institutions, our towns, our budgets. We think the time is right for a more serious look at the subject."I guess all the jokers and academic imposters who have studied college sport for the last 100 years should be glad that serious "closeted" scholars can come out and take a more "serious" look at the subject. I'm sure I won't be invited to speak in Nashville next January, but hopefully I can find other less rigorous venues for my scholarship.
Recently Dr. Brand has taken the tact of dismissing any critics of the NCAA and/or college sports by utilizing the off-hand comment that "They have their facts wrong." Recent peer-reviewed research discussing the lack of educational content in 2006 NCAA Division I men's basketball broadcasts was referred to as "defying logic." However, the accuracy of the study's results was not questioned. Such tactics are all well and good, and expected as part of the NCAA's lobbying efforts, but now the NCAA has gotten into the academic and scholarly-inquiry business. The NCAA's proposed colloquium is even entitled "Scholarly," just in case people forget that it is intended to be scholarly. It's all part of the NCAA's branding efforts (pun intended).
The NCAA, in my humble professional opinion, is not satisfied with sponsoring athletic championships, and monopolizing college sports. It seems determined to also purchase any and all critical academic discussion surrounding intercollegiate athletics. I am struck by the similarity of this situation to the NCAA's tactics in its recent purchase of the NIT.
To purchase as much of the dialogue as possible, the NCAA will sponsor a BCS-like colloquium with only four scholars speaking as representatives for all. I have not doubt the NCAA will publicize this controlled scrimmage as an example of its commitment to its educational mission.
Next time I'll post information about the founding of the College Sport Research Institute (CSRI), a new journal entitled: Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics (JIIA), and next year's 3rd Annual "Issues in College Sport" colloquium and conference to be held April 16-19, 2008 on the campus of The University of Memphis.
FYI: Dr. Brand will be invited to serve on the institute's advisory board, and also contribute as a member of the journal's editorial review board. In addition, he will be asked to be a colloquium panelist and to submit an abstract or paper to be "blind peer-reviewed" for the conference.
It's the least one would expect as part of a legitimate scholarly inquiry into college sports.