Conflicts of Interest in the Intercollegiate Athletics Management Structure – The Impetus for Nullification of Presidential Authority

Submitted by Corey M. Turner, J.D., Assistant Professor of Business Law*

1* Department of Business, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York 11235

Corey M. Turner is an Assistant Professor of Business Law and a member of the campus-wide Athletics Committee at the City University of New York’s Kingsborough Community College.

ABSTRACT

In recent years there have been numerous athletics scandals at major universities. The scandals are the outgrowth of infractions of NCAA rules and regulations committed by coaches and student-athletes. In the wake of such scandals, university presidents have asserted that they are not in control of their athletics programs, despite the fact that the NCAA changed its management structure in 1997 giving presidents full authority for the governance of intercollegiate athletics nationally. Thus, there is a perception amongst university presidents that their presidential authority in areas of intercollegiate athletics governance has been nullified despite the existence of NCAA regulations to the contrary.

The root cause of nullification of presidential control and authority is the president’s own conflict of interest between professional responsibilities and personal interests. In the contemporary environment of large television contracts and the race to increase revenues on university campuses, there has been a fundamental change in mindset that places the importance of athletics over academics. In such an environment, conflicts of interest are both prevalent and unavoidable. Thus, the key issue is not the existence of conflicts of interest, but the management of conflicts of interest.

Although there is no easy answer or simple fix for conflict of interest induced nullification, process based decision making may be strategically deployed as a conflict of interest management tool when analyzing information, evaluating choices, making decisions, and establishing conditions that such decisions must meet in order to be ethically correct.

Key words: infractions, NCAA, university, president, management structure, control, authority, governance, intercollegiate, athletics, conflict of interest, nullification, decision making.

 

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, highly publicized athletic scandals at, most notably, the University of Miami, Ohio State University, Syracuse University, and Penn State University have left a black mark on intercollegiate sports (20). The scandals are the outgrowth of infractions of NCAA rules and regulations committed by student-ahletes and coaches which result, invariably, in penalties such as scholarship losses and bowl banishments being levied against offending institutions by the NCAA (53).

In order to understand the root causes of why “major” intercollegiate sports programs tend to be prone to committing infractions of NCAA rules, one need look no further than the university management structure. At the top of the university management structure is the president. University presidents lead by inspiring a shared vision and illuminating the path that leads to realization of the vision which is what the institution and its many constituents expect of them (24). Such a role places the president in a critical position in the governance of athletics (25). Ostensibly, presidents are accountable for the major elements in the university’s life, including the athletics department (31). However, conflicts of interest in the university management structure have nullified presidential authority in institutional athletics governance. Specifically, such conflicts of interest emanate from the president’s own endogenous struggle between professional responsibilities and personal interests.

Such challenges in the area of institutional athletics governance are not lost on university presidents as many presidents believe that they are not in control of their athletic programs and have little confidence, overall, that the presidents of campuses engaged in big-time collegiate athletics are in control of these programs (19).

This article will explore conflicts of interest in the university management structure in the context of intercollegiate athletics, particularly those conflicts within the office of the university president. The interplay between the roles of the athletics coach and the university board of trustees will be surveyed and noted for their respective contributions to the conflicts of interest endogenous to the office of the president. A review of current research in the area of managerial conflicts of interest and university president perspectives are highlighted for their applicability to the thesis. Finally, this paper will offer recommendations for presidential management of conflicts of interest in the context of intercollegiate athletics governance.

THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF PRESIDENTIAL CONTROL AND LEADERSHIP

In 1991 the Knight Commission authored a report entitled Keeping Faith with the Student-Athlete in which the organization cited Presidential Control as “one” in its “one-plus-three model” as: “Presidents are accountable for the major elements in the university’s life (31). The burden of leadership falls on them for the conduct of the institution, whether in the classroom or on the playing field (31). The president cannot be a figurehead whose leadership applies elsewhere in the university but not in the athletics department (31). The Knight Commission recommended that presidential control be institutionalized within the NCAA and amongst the athletics conferences, and that university boards of trustees affirm presidential authority on institutional athletics governance (31). This policy change was a response to a renewed call for Presidents to be knowledgeable about athletics programs, to be able to speak from an informed perspective regarding athletics, and to represent the university in key issues concerning athletics (25, 11, 21, 39, 44, 52, 58).

In the wake of the Knight Commission’s 1991 recommendations, presidential control and leadership has been purported to be a consistent theme in shaping the NCAA’s policy agenda (31). Due in large part to the Commission’s recommendations, the NCAA changed its management structure in 1997 giving presidents full authority for the governance of intercollegiate athletics nationally (31). Previously, management and control had been vested in a council of athletics administrators and faculty representatives (31). According to the Knight Commission, the NCAA’s board of presidents continues to make progress solidifying and expanding its control over college sports, and Presidents are more fully engaged at the conference and institutional levels in a number of tangible and substantive ways (31).

The foregoing goal of the Knight Commission is commendable, and as a matter of policy sounds great in theory, but in practice the stark reality is that presidential control has been nullified due to conflicts of interest confronting presidents in the process of attempting to exert control and authority over athletics coaches, many of whom earn several multiples more in annual salary than the university president and who help to generate major revenue and notoriety for the university (61). Case in point, in 2011 Urban Meyer, the head football coach at Ohio State University, earned $4 million in annual salary while Ohio State University President, Gordon Gee, earned $1.3 million in annual salary (34). Such a clear disparity in salary raises obvious questions about the role of sports in universities and the ethics of a coach making more than triple the salary of the university president (34). The bonus incentives for academic progress are nowhere near the ones for going to a BCS game or championship game (34).

From 1986 to 2010, the increase in pay for head football coaches far outpaced the increase in salaries for professors and presidents at major college football schools (33). Over the past 25 years, professors’ salaries at major college football schools rose 32 percent (33). Presidents at those institutions received increases of 90 percent while football coaches’ compensation grew 750 percent (33).

The decline of collective support and state block funding for public higher education has been well documented (51, 6, 8). As state revenues continue to shrink, the inconvenient truth is that intercollegiate sports increasingly fund academics (61). Indeed, contemporary scholarly research in this area has shown an increasingly entrepreneurial and commercial approach to the management and finance of postsecondary institutions (51, 30, 38, 49, 50, 54, 55). In a 2009 Knight Commission survey of 95 FBS presidents, 51 percent said that sports help generate revenue for their universities (2). In 2010 for example, University of Texas President Bill Powers, in trying to prevent defensive coordinator Will Muschamp from leaving, sought permission from the University of Texas Board of Trustees to double Muschamp’s salary to $1 million (61). The request was granted by the Board of Trustees, it is believed because athletics had recently contributed $30 million to the university (61).

A major responsibility for a university president and a metric upon which a president is evaluated is the president’s ability to raise money for the university. As such, presidential leadership in university fundraising activities is becoming an expectation rather than an extracurricular activity (24). As Kaufman (2004) noted, “Fundraising is one of the most visible and demanding roles expected from campus leaders today” (p. 50) (28). As a result, there is no other staffer within the university management structure that can create the vision, establish university-wide priorities, or make the case for financial support as effectively as the president (24). While university presidents are not involved in day-to-day management of the programs overall, presidents are in the most strategic position to ensure that effective reporting structures, governing bodies, and policies are in place (25). Thus, the ultimate responsibility for fundraising cannot be delegated to staff, the board of trustees, or the foundation board (24, 16). Ironically, however, presidents often use athletics as a means of raising money (61) for the university which highlights another example of the conflict of interest faced by presidents in attempting to exert authority and control over athletics. Consider the following reality faced by presidents. In order to raise money, presidents, routinely entice private donors with athletics events, sideline credentials, locker room visits with the athletics teams, and facilitate private calls with the coach (61). Presidents will almost do anything to make a potential financial donor feel like an insider (61). On football Saturdays, presidents mingle and conduct business in their suites with billionaires and politicians (61). The perception is if athletics are run well, the university is too; and the natural extension of this line of thinking is that the president must also be performing at a high level. It stands to reason then that if a winning team makes a donor more likely to cut a check for a new library, then firing or disciplining a coach can be that much tougher (61). Robert Gates, who was once the Secretary of Defense and a university president, once said that it was easier to remove a dictator than it was to oust the football coach at Texas A&M University (61).

Thus, the conflict of interest faced by the university president in matters of athletics is evident. In particular, pressure for universities to raise substantial amounts of income from private sources underscores numerous concerns relating to the missions and social responsibilities of these institutions (51, 5, 15, 46, 47). If the university has a successful athletics program, then the perception is that the university is run well, and donors are more likely to cut checks to the university. All of the foregoing are direct benefits to the president’s stature, reputation, and performance grade as a fundraiser and leader, amongst other professional accolades. So given the fact that the president directly benefits from the success of the coach and athletics program, it is fairly obvious that the president would experience conflicts when exerting authority and control over a coach and athletics department that plays such a vital role in the president’s own success. The foregoing exemplifies the conflict of interest schema that has served as a direct cause of nullification of presidential control and authority in intercollegiate athletic affairs.

COACHES

An explosion in television revenue has led to massive increases in intercollegiate football coaching salaries. Networks including Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and News Corp.’s Fox have contracted to pay the top five conferences and Bowl Championship Series approximately $14 billion in television rights fees through 2032 (34). In an aggressive marketplace where television revenue appears to be driving coaching salaries, competition for proven coaches is heightened (60). Such competition has led to an environment in which contracts now offer much more than basic salary as way to attract the best coaches. Perks include: personal use of private jets, low-interest home loans, land deals, million-dollar annuities, pricey luxury suites at schools’ stadiums, use of vacation homes, family travel accounts, country club memberships, and a cut of game ticket revenues (60).

In 1981 Danny Ford led Clemson University to the National football championship. His annual salary was $50,000 (33). Adjusted for inflation, that would be $140,000 today (33). Dabo Swinney, the current head coach at Clemson University, received $3,175,100 in base salary in 2014 (3). Swinney’s contract salary was only in the middle of the pack for major-college coaches. At the University of South Carolina, Steve Spurrier made $4,016,900 in 2014; the head coach at Texas A&M University, Kevin Sumlin made $5,006,000; and the head coach at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban, received $7,160,187 (3). As stated previously in this paper, the salary spike is linked to an increase in intercollegiate athletics television revenue (33).

It is important to note, that the power that comes with the economic success of a coach extends beyond money (36). It includes a bundle of normative judgments about a coach’s strengths, including leadership, efficiency, and vision (36). This perception is not lost on university board of trustees that are charged with approving coaching salaries and perks. Even trustees fall prey to the impulse to overpay coaches for the promised glitter of a winning season and routinely place pressure on university presidents to produce winning athletic programs (60). Such desire to win even causes campus communities to forgive NCAA infractions as it is a common occurrence for boosters, trustees, students, and faculty to forgive NCAA infractions in exchange for the benefits reaped by the institution from football Saturdays (61).

THE TRUSTEES

There is not much theoretical literature on postsecondary board of trustees (51). There tends to be a general consensus amongst scholars that university presidents serve as the key decision makers and institutional leaders (51). Accordingly, it is university presidents who receive more scholarly attention than boards of trustees (51). The bulk of research that does exist on boards of trustees is relegated to descriptive, presenting trustee characteristics, or prescriptive, aimed at educating trustees so they understand and better perform their duties (51, 9, 23, 26, 27, 29). Nevertheless, no discussion regarding the university management structure in the context of intercollegiate sports is complete without addressing the vital role of the university board of trustees. Generally, the board of trustees carry with it the power to recruit, select and hire the president as well as fire the president (55, 45). Moreover, in a case study of university decision-making, Pusser (2003) argues that trustees serve as links to powerful political and economic interest groups beyond the institution (48). It is in this connection that the board of trustees wields its power to place pressure on the president to produce a winning athletics program while openly showing admiration for the coach. In such an environment, the president’s conflict of interest is once again evident. Does the president exert authority or otherwise enforce policies which are unfavorable to the coach and athletics department thereby running the risk of drawing the ire of the board of trustees to whom the president directly reports to?

This conflict of interest was addressed directly by former President of Ohio State University, Gordon Gee, when describing his approach to handling the then head football coach, Jim Tressel, amidst the 2011 scandal that rocked the Ohio State University campus. Gee explained that numerous OSU officials, including provost Joseph Alutto, advised him to terminate Tressel (61). But it is Gee’s position that such actions are not how presidents survive. “Gee subscribes to a three-bullet theory: He believes he gets only three mea culpas with the trustees before he’s, as he puts it, “pumping gas (61).” Gee did not want to burn political capital by unilaterally firing Tressel, who had friends on the board of trustees (61). In short, the conflict of interest lies in the two following competing choices, to wit: (a) the president has a choice to back his coach and take heat; or (b) fire him and risk making the trustees, to whom the president reports to and who carry the power to terminate the president, unhappy (61).

MANAGERIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST RESEARCH

A conflict of interest arises when people make decisions biased by their own personal goals while neglecting established responsibilities to consider the interests of others (59). The primary focus of research on managerial conflicts of interest has focused on managers’ use of their positions to enrich themselves (13). It is important to note then that one has to have at least two interests to have a conflict of interest, to wit: personal interests versus professional responsibilities (42). In the case of the university president, on the one hand, it’s the conflict posed by standing up for the higher values espoused for intercollegiate programs by standing strong against the activities and individuals who would usurp those higher values (20) versus, on the other hand, the allure of the trappings of success that come along with a winning athletics program. According to the 2010 Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics, it is the ever-present race for revenue in intercollegiate athletics which “could lead to a permanent and untenable competition between academics and athletics (4).” More broadly stated, it is the conflict between amateurism and academics on the one side and commercialism and performance success on the other side (53); and situated squarely between the two conflicting interests is the president.

In recent years, conflicts of interest have attracted significant attention from society, due in large part, to the numerous financial scandals that have negatively impacted the U.S. economy (42). It is important to note, however, that conflicts of interest are ubiquitous occurring in many industries including government, financial services, sports, law, medicine, and education (59, 12). Regardless of the industry, occurrences of conflicts of interest are commonly manifested when an individual has a responsibility to look after broader interests that are neglected in favor of the individual’s own self interests (59).

A common theme identified in recent scandals involving conflicts of interest is that problems have followed changes in professional mindset (42). For example, Arthur Andersen, in his formative years as an auditor, discovered that a large client of his was inflating profit reports by incorrectly classifying routine expenses as capital investments (42). When the client demanded that Andersen provide a clean audit report, Andersen replied he would not do so for all the money in the city of Chicago (42, 40). Over the years, however, the unimpeachable reputation that Arthur Andersen worked so hard to cultivate at the firm that bore his name began to diminish (42). The ethics watchdogs at Andersen’s Professional Standards Group saw their influence wane while the influence of the firm’s salesmen increased (42). New hires were indoctrinated to believe that Andersen served as a business partner to its clients, seeking to help them become successful in every aspect of their businesses (42). Indeed, shortly before the collapse of the Enron Corporation, Andersen had been preparing a campaign advertising its new “integrated audit” approach, with Enron as the example (42, 14). Andersen’s “mindset” with regard to its auditing services, it appears, underwent a radical evolution (42).

The case of Arthur Andersen is analogous to the situation faced by the president in the context of institutional athletics governance. It is apparent that the professional mindset in intercollegiate athletics has also undergone changes. The role of the university president may be analogized to the ethics watchdogs at Andersen’s Professional Standards Group while the athletics coach may be analogized to the salesmen. As was the case with Arthur Andersen as is the case with intercollegiate athletics governance, the influence of the university president is waning, while the influence of the coach is increasing. In both of the foregoing cases, it is apparent that money is at the heart of the conflict. Does one uphold ethical standards inherent in established professional responsibilities or succumb to self-interests wrought by the allure of money at the expense of ethical standards?

Such conflicts of interest are as old as history itself, and as an historical matter, it is important to acknowledge that conflicts of interest can and do morph into financial fraud (13) in the case of Arthur Andersen and infractions of NCAA rules in the context of intercollegiate athletics. It stands to reason then that morphing, by definition, in this context, is a gradual process of transformation (41) involving the acceptance of unethical behavior increased with time. Moreover, it is notable that acceptance of unethical behavior can increase over time just as people are prone to escalate their commitment to previously chosen courses of action (42, 18, 35, 56, 57). Such was the case, as it may be theorized, of Jim Tressel’s unceremonious departure as Ohio State University’s head football coach in 2011 after an investigation uncovered that Tressel had covered up, over time, infractions of NCAA rules by his players (53).

The mass infusion of television revenue money through the athletics department into the university economy has contributed mightily to a change in perception regarding the value of a winning athletics program at a university and a major cause of the change in professional mindset. The money helps pay for nonrevenue sports, but it also funds coaching salaries (33). Moreover, if athletics are run well, it is perceived that the university is also run well. Such a perception is a direct benefit to the president whose performance and reputation are measured by such metrics. Thus, the president has a conflict of interest involving two disparate motives that professionals often confront simultaneously: professional responsibilities and personal interests (42).

PRESIDENTIAL PERSPECTIVES ON INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS

According to the 2012 Inside Higher Ed Survey, three-fourths of Division I presidents believe that they and their peers are not in control of their athletic programs (19). An even larger number – nine in ten – of their presidential peers in other segments and sectors have little confidence that the presidents of campuses engaged in big-time collegiate athletics are in control of these programs (19). Fully three-fourths (75.0 percent) of the 1,002 college and university presidents who participated either agreed or strongly agreed that colleges and universities “spend way too much money” on intercollegiate sports; approximately two-thirds (67.8 percent), believe that “the athletic scandals of 2011 have hurt the reputation of all of higher education, not just the institutions involved,” and almost half (48.2 percent) view the recent scandals as an “inevitable” byproduct of big-time athletic programs (19). Moreover, presidents are not, in aggregate, optimistic about the prospects for reform: less than a third (29.6 percent) agree that the NCAA reform proposals will “achieve meaningful success” (19).

However, one set of statistics offers insightful details about the challenges of presidential command and control over intercollegiate athletics: just a fourth of Division I presidents agree/strongly agree that “the presidents of big-time athletic programs are in control of their programs,” compared to just a tenth of their peers in other four-year colleges and in community colleges (19). Stated another way, three-fourths of Division I presidents believe that they and their peers are not in control of their athletic programs (19).

The results of the 2012 Inside Higher Ed Survey appear to be rife with irony which underscores the importance of moral evaluations in conflicts of interest. As highlighted heretofore, due in large part to the Knight Commission’s recommendations, the NCAA restructured in 1997 giving presidents full authority for the governance of intercollegiate athletics at the national level. Such control had previously been in the hands of a council of athletics administrators and faculty representatives (31).

Ostensibly, the NCAA, the national governing body for intercollegiate athletics, has given the presidents full authority for the governance of intercollegiate sports. In the face of the foregoing reality, presidents, in overwhelming percentages, as indicated in the 2012 Inside Higher Ed Survey, state that they are not in control of their athletics programs. Such contradictory viewpoints (or, worse, essential hypocrisy) warrant an ethical and scientific evaluation of the conflicts of interests faced by presidents in the context of institutional athletics governance.

Since conflicts of interest are such a widespread and, in many instances, unavoidable problem, it is pointless to worry about its ethical dimension, particularly if it is believed by the NCAA that the presidents involved are the ones best equipped to deal with it (1, 31). However, frequently this tends to be indicative of a relativist attitude that is frequently refuted by the facts. With respect to the ethical evaluation of conflicts of interest, two foundational points in the context of intercollegiate athletics may be established:

  • It is ethically wrong for the president to act against the interests of the university in a de facto conflict of interest (1). Doing so causes injustice because the president has an ethical obligation to act in accordance with the interests of the university (1).
  • The president involved in a conflict of interest must assume his/her responsibility for managing his/her own private interests in relation to his/her position as president within the university management structure (1). As such, the president may not shift this responsibility onto other exogenous factors: there is always an element of personal responsibility attributable, directly, to the president (1).

Recent work in experimental psychology is instructive in understanding the breadth and depth of the problem involved in conflicts of interest (1, 7, 10, 37, 43). As a general rule, there is a basic assumption that competent, independent, well trained and prudent professionals such as university presidents will be capable of making the right decision, even in conflict of interest situations, and therefore that the real problem is how presidents prevent decisions to allow their own interest to prevail over the legitimate interests of the university (1).

In considering the decision making process in conflict of interest situations it is instructive to consider how common human traits are linked to four major reasons why people, in general, and university presidents, in particular, make poor choices (22). The reasons are: (a) the “narrow framing” of problems that causes people to overlook viable options; (b) the “confirmation bias” that causes people to give undue credence to information confirming a decision while ignoring other pertinent information; (c) the introduction of “short-term” emotion in the decision making process; and (d) overconfidence that people display regarding the future (22).

The foregoing framework provides a legitimate scientific explanation for why presidents, in the face of being empowered by the NCAA to exert authority in matters of institutional athletics governance assert that they (presidents) have no control of their athletics programs. It is notable that the 2012 Inside Higher Ed survey was conducted in the immediate aftermath of highly publicized athletics scandals at the University of Miami, Ohio State University, Syracuse University, and Penn State University. Many conclusions may be drawn from the survey’s results regarding presidents’ attitudes toward their own complicity as well as responsibility and accountability vested in the office of the president.

When considering the foregoing, one may reasonably gather, based on the literature, that when presidents are confronted with conflicts of interest in the context of intercollegiate athletics, it can be found that:

  • Presidents shut out any information that could undermine the image they have of themselves and they are unaware of doing so (1).
  • Presidents are influenced by the roles they assume, so that their preference for a particular outcome ratifies their sense of justice in the way they interpret situations (1).
  • Often, a president’s notion of justice is biased in their own favor (1).
  • Presidents are selective when it comes to assessing evidence; they are more likely to accept evidence that supports their desired conclusion, and tend to value uncritically. If evidence contradicts their desired conclusion, they tend to ignore it or examine it much more critically (1).
  • When presidents know that they are going to be judged by their decisions, they tend to try to adapt their behavior to what they think the audience expects or wants from them (1).
  • For these reasons it is plausible that presidents believe that they are capable of identifying and resisting the temptations arising from their own interests, when evidence indicates that those capabilities are generally limited and tend to be unconsciously biased (1). In reality, managing conflict of interest and the responses to those conflicts are choices and must be regarded as endogenous variables (13). Additionally, observation of the techniques for managing conflicts of interest and the actual behavior responses are generally inherently biased (13).

Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino cites findings from her own research studies and those of her colleagues in her book Sidetracked, in which three types of forces that derail decisions are identified: (a) forces coming from within; (b) forces from our relationships; and (c) forces from the outside (17). In the instant context, amongst those that emanate from within, or “endogenous” forces are an inaccurate and often inflated view of oneself that leads us to treat advice inappropriately at the wrong times, “infectious emotion,” and a tendency to adopt an overly narrow focus (17, 22).

It stands to reason then that it is the president’s own approach to dealing with conflicts of interest that is the impetus for nullification of presidential control and authority in institutional athletics governance and not some yet to be clearly defined exogenous variable(s).

CONFLICT OF INTEREST MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

Many strategies have been advanced to address problems created by the ever-presence of conflicts of interest. It is notable, however, that strategies must be chosen with consideration given to the specific situation at hand as well as the circumstances. The novelty, then, in the context of intercollegiate athletics governance, is not the presence of conflicts of interest, but their management (13). Thus, the school of thought that the only effective way to resolve conflicts of interest is for people with conflicts to completely remove themselves from relevant decisions (23) is rejected, in the instant context, in favor of management of said conflicts (13) through a deliberate process-based system.
As a threshold matter, the president must assess his or her own ethical attitude toward conflicts of interest. The president must also be familiar with the criteria for an ethically correct decision inasmuch as she must understand the obligations that flow from the relationship with the university and the variety of ways in which she can commit an injustice (1). With the foregoing understanding firmly established as a foundation, the president may employ the following strategies in the management of conflict of interest situations: (a) broadening options for decisions by emphasizing the “and” over the “or” in formulating them (22); (b) preparing to be wrong by setting limits on outcomes (22); (c) identifying ways to attain distance by looking at a decision through someone else’s eyes (22), or zooming out to facilitate a broader perspective (17, 59); (d) focusing on the long-term impact of the decision (22); and (e) seeking out the devil’s advocate viewpoint by presenting the arguments to an audience that holds opposing viewpoints (e.g., developing the arguments from the university’s point of view, etc.) (1, 7, 37).

Finally, the president must assume responsibility and follow her own conscience; and if the president has made a mistake, she will have to be willing to ask those impacted for forgiveness (and learn from the mistake) and correct any harm that has been caused (1).

CONCLUSION

The view that university Presidents are not in control of athletics on their respective campuses must be qualified as such a viewpoint is myopic inasmuch as it fails to address the root causes of the nullification of presidential control. Ironically, the nullification problem faced by presidents in areas of intercollegiate athletics is akin to the enemy within. As it is the president’s own endogenous conflict of interest between professional responsibility and personal gain that serves as the impetus, ostensibly, for lack of control. In the contemporary environment of large television contracts and the race to increase revenues on university campuses, there has been a fundamental change in mindset that places the importance of athletics prowess over academics. In such an environment, conflicts of interest are both prevalent and unavoidable. Thus, the key issue is not the existence of conflicts of interest, but the management of conflicts of interest.

As this article makes clear, there is no easy answer or simple fix for conflict of interest induced nullification. However, the deliberate process based system of decision making as set forth in this paper may be strategically deployed by presidents as a conflict of interest management tool when analyzing information, evaluating choices, making decisions, and establishing conditions that such decisions must meet in order to be ethically correct.

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