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PART TWO Emerging Concerns 131 Almost since the founding of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), college sport leaders have noted “an inherent tension between the intellectual independence of the academy and the use of corporate dollars to support any aspect of higher education” (National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA], 2010b, ¶ 2). In 2012, Wally Renfro (former NCAA vice president and policy advisor) declared, “commercial activity within the context of intercollegiate athletics is as old as the games themselves and it is growing” (Renfro, 2012, p. 33). He also stated, “participation in college sports enhances the educational experience of student-athletes and that such educational value is the only rational reason for the continued support of intercollegiate athletics in higher education” (Renfro, 2012, p. 33). Justifying commercial activity, NCAA administrators proclaim that, contrary to public perceptions, college athletes are fully integrated into universities ’ academic communities and enjoy greater academic success than regular students. Since the introduction of its academic reform program in 2004, the NCAA has characterized its reform efforts as “nothing short of remarkable . . . with a record percentage of student-athletes achiev[ing] graduation, the ultimate goal of entering college” (Hosick, 2014, ¶3). In sworn court testimony, the NCAA has gone further and declared that its academic reform efforts have been especially beneficial to athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds: Integrating student-athletes into the academic community improves their educational experience. Full participation in that experience—not just meeting academic requirements, but also studying, interacting with 6 The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s “Nothing Short of Remarkable” Rebranding of Academic Success RICHARD M. SOUTHALL AND CRYSTAL SOUTHALL 132 RICHARD M. SOUTHALL AND CRYSTAL SOUTHALL faculty and diverse classmates, and receiving academic support such as tutoring and mentoring—generally leads student-athletes, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to reap more from their education , including enjoying higher graduation rates and better job prospects (O’Bannon v. NCAA, November 14, 2014, p. 11). In the midst of explosive commercial activities, including record media-rights deals (e.g., eight-year, $8.8 billion NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament extension with CBS/Turner [NCAA, 2016a]) and coaching compensation (e.g., Mike Krzyzewski and Nick Saban both earned more than $7 million in 2016 [Berkowitz , Upton, Schnaars, Doughtery, & Neuharth-Keusch, 2016a; 2016b]), during his 2012 State of the Association address Emmert obliquely invoked Robert Frost, declaring college sport was at a: curious fork in the road, and we have to decide. Are we going to take the collegiate model, maximize our values, make the changes we need to make, but bring the collegiate model up to the 21st century consistent with our values as academic enterprises. Or are we going to wave the white flag, throw in the towel and say it’s too much (Emmert, 2012, p.13). Answering his rhetorical question, Emmert declared critics’ calls for “big-time” college sport to adopt a “professional model” was admitting defeat after more than 100 years of college sport successes, including the unparalleled recent academic success of the NCAA’s cherished Collegiate Model of Athletics (Southall & Staurowsky, 2013). Throughout its history, the NCAA has continually rebranded its most visible product—“big-time” college sport—as the antithesis of an exploitative commercial enterprise; it is a pathway to opportunity, which everyone wants. According to this rebranding narrative, supported by sepia tone or greyscale images on the NCAA website public service announcements during NCAA events, and YouTube and Twitter video vignettes (see #opportunity), NCAA college sport provides athletes a pathway to opportunity “by prioritizing academics, well-being and fairness” (NCAA, 2016b). Further, the NCAA characterizes its academic-reform efforts as having resulted in “nothing short of remarkable” (Hosick, 2014, ¶ 3) progress. The NCAA’s academic rebranding has made use of targeted statistical methodologies and analyses, coordinated public-relations strategies, messaging discipline, and elements of institutional propaganda. Although the NCAA has sought to rebrand academic success to assuage college sport fans, the media, and public officials, this chapter critically examines this rebranding strategy and offers an alternative hypothesis to the “nothing-short-of-remarkable” narrative : The NCAA’s quarter-century rebranding has significantly harmed both higher education and—most troublingly—college athletes. REBRANDING OF ACADEMIC SUCCESS 133 The NCAA Brand The NCAA1 (i.e., “the all-encompassing blue disk” [Stark, 2015, ¶1]) is a globally recognized, multifaceted institutional brand (i.e., 1,121 colleges and universities) that encompasses several sub-brands (i.e., NCAA Divisions I, II, and III), 24 sports, and 90 championship...


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MARC Record
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