UA faculty weighs whether to stay in sports bloc

FAYETTEVILLE -- Faculty members from the University of Arkansas helped found the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, creating an organization that since 2002 has given professors at universities a voice on issues relating to college sports.

The group in 2007 published a paper outlining ideas to improve the welfare of athletes, and in 2014 published a report on concussion protocols.

But UA faculty members now are questioning the way the membership organization makes decisions, and the university's faculty senate could vote next month to withdraw from the group.

"This is an organization that drifted substantially," said John Pijanowski, chairman of UA's faculty senate.

His main complaint is that decisions have been made without members being involved. Faculty leadership groups from 64 institutions, including 12 schools that compete in the Southeastern Conference, make up the organization.

Pijanowski, speaking Wednesday to UA's faculty senate, said he found decisions being made by only a few people, explaining his recommendation to withdraw.

"Mostly my concern is to protect the University of Arkansas brand, and that our name doesn't get carried along with things I don't feel comfortable with and that I haven't had a chance to be a part of," Pijanowski said.

Tom Jensen, a UA marketing professor, has served as UA's representative in the group since 2006, attending annual meetings along with other faculty leaders like Pijanowski.

Before Wednesday's meeting, Jensen said talk of withdrawal came about without any input from the UA athletic department. At the meeting, Jensen said the coalition has "lost their credibility with the NCAA," the member-led organization overseeing many aspects of college sports.

Jensen also said the organization is moving away from a core focus on academics to other issues, such as misconduct.

"That's a lot of these letters being written that we have no say-so on," Jensen said.

Mike Bowen, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida and chairman of the national coalition's steering committee, said faculty members protect the integrity of institutions as athletic departments feel pressure to win and produce revenue.

"It seems to me that the faculty voice is needed more now than ever," Bowen said, adding that he'd be disappointed if UA withdraws.

At Wednesday's meeting, Jensen said Bowen had invited him serve on the steering committee or as chairman. However, Pijanowski questioned the idea.

"I don't have faith in that process," Pijanowski said.

The coalition is to meet beginning Feb. 17 in North Carolina at Wake Forest University, with UA's next faculty senate meeting scheduled for Feb. 8.

B. David Ridpath, president of The Drake Group, a group of faculty members, staff members and others focused on academic integrity in college sports, said he was not aware of other schools seeking to withdraw from the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics.

"I've always said COIA has put out some very good positions," said Ridpath, a sports management professor at Ohio University.

NW News on 01/19/2017