Coaches don't support reforms in college sports, survey shows But most Americans endorse changes


WASHINGTON -- A report on college sports released yesterday shows that coaches are stubbornly resisting reforms that most Americans and almost all of the academic community believe are desperately needed.

"By any measure, the coaches, more than any other group, clearly opt for the status quo," said pollster Lou Harris, whose research firm conducted the national survey.

Most coaches "do not endorse the [college] presidents taking over firm control of their athletic programs. They resist having their total income controlled by the university," Harris said. "And, what's more, they appear to be highly adamant in their disagreement."

The Harris Poll was taken on behalf of the Knight Commission, an independent group of college and university presidents and other executives that is conducting a yearlong study of college athletics. The Knight Commission will release its findings and recommendations later this month.

In addition to a national public opinion sampling, the Harris Poll conducted separate surveys of major college football and basketball coaches, university presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors, booster club leaders, athletes, professors, university trustees, federal and state lawmakers and others involved with sport and its regulation.

The poll "went far beyond, both in depth and in coverage, what had ever been done before," said Harris at a Washington press conference.

The public opinion survey found that most adults (59 percent) are fans of college football and/or basketball, and 90 percent believe college athletics are a worthwhile experience for players and spectators alike.

However, three of out four Americans believe major college sports "have gotten out of control" and most doubt that the universities will clean up the excesses themselves. Most Americans (60 percent) think legislation will be needed to bring college sports under control, the survey found.

Most of the surveyed groups said the NCAA is not doing a good job of controlling the abuses in college athletics. Notable exceptions were coaches, conference commissioners and athletic directors, however.

These groups were "in effect saying there is not an urgent need for the NCAA to get tougher," said Harris, who described himself as a die-hard basketball fan of the University of North Carolina Tarheels.

The pollster called the issue of compensation for coaches "a smoking gun." Presently, major college coaches can double or triple their salaries through endorsements of products such as athletic shoes and from television shows and sports camps.

The survey found most college presidents and athletic directors believe all contracts for outside income should be made directly with the university rather than the coaches themselves. The school would decide what the coach's total income would be. Opposing this arrangement are 80 percent of the coaches, as well as 53 percent of the public.

The survey also shows "widespread agreement that all athletic funds be brought under university control, including all outside athletic foundation and booster funds," said Harris. "Only coaches and booster club leaders oppose this."

Most of those surveyed believe that too much emphasis is put on sports "in most big-time schools." The only groups with a majority that thought the emphasis was "about right" were coaches (61 percent), boosters (76 percent) and athletic directors (52 percent).

The survey indicates that there is widespread support for changes in college sports, said Harris. But there is also "adamant opposition to certain specific types of reform."

To put intercollegiate sports back into proper perspective and to provide athletes the same educational experiences as non-athletes, Harris said, college "presidents will need stiffer backbones, the trustees will have to close ranks and the faculty will have to come out of their academic shells and take part."

"In the end," he predicted, "I even think coaches will adjust."

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