Academic Integrity in Intercollegiate Athletics:  Principles, Rules, and Best Practices


3. Curricular Integrity


The campus faculty bears primary responsibility for ensuring that academic programs conform to high standards of integrity in curriculum and student evaluation.  On many campuses, this role is performed by faculty within individual schools or units.  However, continuing reports of compromises in academic integrity related to athletics have been persistent over the past century, and are a matter of concern to campus faculties as a whole.  The most common forms of reported abuse are courses or programs intentionally designed to attract athletes by being academically unchallenging either in content or in grading, or that provide preferential grading for athletes.  The COIA makes no judgment about the validity of such reports; our concern is that campus faculties be provided the information necessary to determine whether there is evidence of abuse and authority to establish the policies and procedures necessary to investigate and remediate if they appear warranted.


Although the potential abuse in question primarily concerns behavior by faculty and advisors, the principal tool necessary to allow campus faculties to determine whether the possibility of abuse is occurring is data concerning enrollment and grading patterns of students in individual sports programs.  Such data would be designed to reveal whether there are clusters of athletes enrolled in identical courses or in courses with identical instructors, unusually high class GPAs in such courses or from such instructors, or grades significantly higher than predicted for athletes as compared to others in such courses or from such instructors.  The presence of positive data in this regard is not necessarily an indication of compromised integrity, but compromised integrity would likely generate such indicators, and their presence should be a cause for concern and inquiry.


For this reason, the Coalition recommends that such data be collected and made available to campus faculty governance, which should also be empowered to report on it and investigate the significance of problematic features. In this regard, the Coalition recommends the adoption of an NCAA Division I bylaw, as follows:


3.1 Campuses shall collect data on athlete enrollments and grades by course section, including indication of course GPAs, and data on choice of majors, for each individual sport, and shall convey that information to the campus Faculty Governance Body, ensuring that the anonymity of individual students is protected to the degree provided by law.  Where no campus Faculty Governance Body exists, the information shall be conveyed to the Campus Athletics Board.   


Until this policy may be adopted as an NCAA bylaw, the COIA recommends it as a best practice, to be considered and adapted by local campus faculty governance.


In addition, the Coalition recommends the following best practices:


3.2 Campus administrators and Faculty Governance Bodies should develop policies and procedures specifying the format in which such data will be presented, and the degree to which the data shall be made public or restricted, adhering in all cases to the requirements of FERPA protections.


3.3 The Faculty Governance Body should create a committee on academic integrity, specifically assigned to review and interpret data collected concerning athlete enrollment and grade patterns, in order to determine whether data consistent with a failure of academic integrity exist.  This committee may be organized as a subcommittee of a standing committee on educational policies or academic affairs, to which it would report. 


3.4 Campus administrators and Faculty Governance Bodies should develop policies and procedures allowing for investigation of problematic data concerning athlete enrollment or GPA patterns, and for remediation, if deemed necessary.  The goal of these policies should be to ensure that faculty and advisors associated with all campus programs are maintaining standards of academic integrity with regard to students participating in intercollegiate athletics programs.  Policies should include guidelines that will help assure that data are interpreted in a manner that is well informed and sensitive to patterns of student enrollment and performance independent of athletics.



It is equally a matter of concern that there is anecdotal evidence that instructors have been unwilling to afford to athletes the academic accommodations necessary for them to fulfill appropriate athletics commitments, for example, by refusing to provide make-up tests or otherwise penalizing athletes for missing classes during team travel periods, when campus regulations call for accommodations.  Such actions or other forms of bias against athletes place these students in an untenable position and interfere with their ability to succeed academically.  Campuses typically provide for academic accommodations in cases where students fulfill commitments as representatives of the institution, and these apply to athletes as well.  Therefore, the Coalition recommends as a best practice: 


3.5 Faculty Governance Bodies should ensure that campus policies concerning accommodations to be granted students in the course of their representation of the institution be clearly codified and conveyed to all faculty.  Procedures for reporting violations of these policies should be clearly stipulated and conveyed to all students, and mechanisms developed for mediation and adjudication.


On many campuses, team coaches have regular or adjunct academic appointments and offer courses for academic credit, generally related to athletics.  While coaches may be well qualified to offer academic courses in some areas, the history of and potential for abuse are well known; in cases where an instructor-coach has grading authority over an athlete, conflict of interest is very clear.  The Coalition offers the following proposals as best practices: 


3.6  Campus administrations and Faculty Governance Bodies should develop policies regarding whether athletes can enroll in credit courses taught by a coach or other member of the athletics department staff.  If permitted, campus administrations and Faculty Governance Bodies should develop procedures for monitoring enrollment, credit, and grades of athletes and non-athletes to minimize any appearance of or actual conflict of interest.


3.7  When an athlete is permitted to enroll in a course taught by his or her coach, that  coach should not participate in any grade assignment for that athlete.  Faculty Governance Bodies should consider whether such policies should be extended to cover assignment of grades by a coach to athletes in other varsity sports.  


On some campuses, academic credit towards degrees is awarded for varsity participation.  This practice has the potential to be in conflict with academic integrity, especially where the coaching staff is involved in assessing student performance.  Therefore, the Coalition recommends the following policy: 


3.8  Academic credit may be awarded for participation in varsity sports only if specifically approved by the campus faculty in its supervisory role over curriculum.  Any such credit should not exceed a small number of total hours toward degree, such as 2-3 percent, and should be assigned only on a pass-fail basis. Faculty-approved procedures should be developed to monitor the awarding of such credit, and to address any cases of abuse that may arise. 

Back to Introduction            To Section 4:  Time Commitment, Missed Class Time, and Scheduling of Competitions