Regents increase oversight of college sports

College presidents who want to expand athletics will face increased scrutiny from the State Board of Regents.

Georgia’s public colleges will need permission from the regents before they can create or add sports or change competition levels, under a policy the board approved Tuesday. Proposals will have to include a five-year operational and capital plan and address other areas. The regents plan to pay close attention to how any changes will affect what students pay.

“The purpose of this is to tell everybody that we can’t keep building athletic programs,” said Regent Kenneth R. Bernard Jr. “We’ve got to support academics.”

Chancellor Hank Huckaby has been discussing the new policy with regents for a couple of months, and officials said it is not in response to action from a specific college. However, over the past few months, the regents signed off on student fee increases so Kennnesaw State and Georgia Southern universities could enhance their programs.

The previous policy provided little guidance for colleges or the regents.

The new policy states that college presidents are responsible for sports programs on their campuses. But presidents will be prohibited from rallying support for any changes to their offerings until the regents have signed off.

“Don’t get out ahead of us,” Bernard said. “We don’t want to read about it in the newspaper.”

Moving forward, the University System of Georgia will periodically review athletic programs for “financial and program soundness.” There will also be annual audits of separately incorporated athletic associations. It’s too soon to say what will happen to programs found to have financial problems.

Huckaby said the policy shows the board’s commitment to making sure the money students, donors and others provide is used properly.

The policy comes amid increased national attention on spending for college athletics. Much of the debate has centered around affordability concerns as higher student fees pay for a large chunk of athletic expansion. While some sports programs make money, others don’t. A 2010 report from the National Collegiate Athletics Association found that Division I athletic programs spend more money than they earn.

Georgia’s new oversight “is a step in the right direction,” although it may be several years before any impact is noticed, said Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

The new rules could provide greater oversight over athletic spending than what most states have over the departments at public colleges, said Sperber, who has written books about college sports.

Georgia’s new policy puts athletics through a process similar to when colleges want to expand academic programs. It also guarantees that sports will be reviewed from a system-wide perspective with uniform standards, said Houston Davis, the system’s chief academic officer.

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