He was looking at a slide, blown up on a screen in front of the class, showing endorsements for athletes since the NCAA began allowing them to earn money outside of their scholarships last year.
The data, Professor Karen Weaver explained, showed that women received more offers than men (although male athletes received more total money). He added: “That’s why we’re here, to help you understand how things are changing.”
The class is part of a doctoral program in higher education management aimed at mid-career administrators looking to advance, with many hoping to one day become university presidents. They fly weekends to study education policy and budgets.
This weekend, the class had a two-day seminar on something a little different: sports.
For the two-day class, Weaver starts with the basics, including the role of the NCAA and the different divisions in college sports, because he’s often dealing with people who haven’t followed sports.
But the fact that his resume exists, Weaver said, is a testament to the growing influence of athletics on campuses. Winning teams mean notoriety; scandals can bring down presidents; the boosters are an increasingly powerful constituency; Football coaches are making millions for not coaching. Weaver covers all of that, but also wants to give his students some background on the NIL rules, Title IX compliance, and the Big Ten’s big new media rights agreement.
“There’s a recognition that you can’t become a college president without really trying to wrap your head around athletics,” Weaver said in an interview after class. “And it’s especially important if you haven’t followed sports.”
Michal added, “Will the NCAA survive in its current form or will it have to evolve if the Big Ten gets bigger and has even more money? This is all fascinating and very important to everyone in the class. Karen helps to gain awareness.”
At one point in class, Weaver brought up the issue of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal, which is worth about $1 billion a year. He asked the students what they would do with the money if they were president of the Big Ten. “Please don’t spend it all on the football coach,” he joked.
The responses provided a cross-sectional view of the purpose and direction of college sports.
Kristina Alimard, COO of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company, raised her hand and offered, “As the resident capitalist in the room, the only people who want to go to XYZ School for on the women’s swim team are swimmers. While many kids say, “I want to go to XYZ school for the football and basketball games. I would invest as much money as I needed to maintain mastery in whatever sport I was driving enrollment in my school.”
Rebecca Sale, senior director of education at Columbia University’s Department of Health Policy and Management, said: “I would put money into women’s soccer. I think you can attract people to women’s soccer. If you could pay for a stadium of football, you could invest in something else. Let’s try to create equity?”
“Is there anything, outside of the moral and ethical issues, that says you have to spend this money on women’s sports, or can they take it all and spend it on whatever they want? ” asked Tim Folan, Penn’s senior associate athletic director.
They could, Weaver replied, spend it on whatever they wanted.
After being asked where he thought college sports were headed, Weaver said he was concerned about college basketball because football is the main revenue driver. The College Football Playoff operates outside the NCAA’s jurisdiction, he noted, citing the $13 million salaries for the coaches, prompting one Division III administrator from the class to say, “How are they [the players] are they still student-athletes? How are we having 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 was then the athletic director at Penn State Abington, a Division III school. He graduated from the Penn program in 2009 and wrote his dissertation on the launch of the Big Ten Network.
“I was fascinated because it said, ‘These college presidents don’t know anything about media.’ What are they doing?’ When I was writing and interviewing them, they weren’t so sure how successful it would be, but oh my God, it changed everything.” A few years later, he proposed adding sports to Penn’s program and began teach- lo in 2012. (There are other similar degree programs, but Weaver believes Penn’s is the only one that offers an athletic component.)
Some advocates of college sports reform preach about reducing the money involved or preserving various ideals of the student-athlete. Weaver’s approach is less editorializing about the direction of college sports than accepting its reality. His course is less philosophical and more practical.
There are some people in academia, often non-sports fans, Weaver said, who tend to stay quiet when sports come out on their campuses. But the goal of his class is to make these people feel comfortable enough to start engaging in these conversations.
As he told his students, “Every leadership team, because of how quickly this environment is changing, needs to have this conversation: ‘Where do we fit in this transformative era?’ I hope that some of you feel that you can go back to your campuses and say, ‘Let’s talk about this; let’s think about this.’ “