In a Penn grad class at the college sporting goods store


PHILADELPHIA — “I’m having trouble understanding,” said Rich Michal. “Are the women really better?”

Michal, senior vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation, sat in a classroom on the University of Pennsylvania campus on a Saturday morning, surrounded by more than a dozen other administrators from across academia.

He looked at a slide that blew up on a screen in front of the class showing the endorsements given to athletes since the NCAA allowed them to make money outside of their scholarships last year.

The data, explained Professor Karen Weaver, showed that women received more deals than men (although male athletes received more money overall). She added, “That’s why we’re here — to help you all understand how things are changing.”

The course is part of a doctoral program in university management aimed at mid-career administrators looking to advance, many of whom hope to one day become university presidents. They fly in at the weekend to study education policy and budgeting.

This weekend the class had a two-day seminar on something else: physical education.

For the two-day course, Weaver starts with the basics, including the role of the NCAA and the various departments in college sports, as she often deals with people who have not followed the sport.

But the fact that their curriculum exists, Weaver says, is a testament to athletics’ growing influence on campus. Winning teams mean notoriety; Scandals can topple presidents; Boosters are an increasingly powerful constituency; Football coaches collect millions for not training. Weaver covers all of that, but she also wants to give her students a basic introduction to the NIL rules, compliance with Title IX, and the Big Ten’s lavish New Media Rights treaty.

“There’s a realization that you can’t become a college president without really trying to get into athletics,” Weaver said in a post-course interview. “And it’s especially important if you haven’t been following any sport.”

Michal added, “Will the NCAA survive in its current form or will it need to evolve as the Big Ten gets bigger and there’s even more money? It’s all fascinating and really important for everyone in the class to know. Karen helps us to become aware.”

At one point during the class, Weaver brought up the subject of the new media rights deal being signed by the Big Ten, which is worth about $1 billion a year. She asked the students what they would do with the money if they were Big Ten presidents. “Please don’t spend everything on the soccer coach,” she joked.

The responses offered a cross-section of views on the purpose and direction of college sports.

Kristina Alimard, chief operating officer of the University of Virginia’s Investment Management Company, raised a hand and offered, “As a resident capitalist in the room, the only people who want to go to XYZ School for the women’s swim team are female swimmers. While tons of kids are saying, “I want to go to XYZ school because of the soccer games and basketball games.” I would spend whatever money I need to maintain dominance in any sport that drives enrollment at my school. ”

Rebecca Sale, senior director of education in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, said: “I would put money into women’s soccer. I think you could get people excited about women’s football. If you could pay for a soccer stadium, you could invest in something else. Are we trying to establish justice?”

“Is there anything, aside from moral and ethical issues, that says you have to spend that money on women’s sport, or can they take it all and spend it on whatever they want? ‘ asked Tim Folan, senior associate athletic director at Penn.

They could, Weaver replied, spend them on anything they wanted.

When asked later where she thought collegiate sports were headed, Weaver said she was concerned about collegiate basketball because soccer is the main driver of revenue. The college football playoffs operate outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA, she noted, and citing $13 million in coach salaries, prompting a Division III administrator in the class to say, “How’s it going? [the players] still student athletes? How do we even have this conversation in the context of higher education?” (The administrator was not authorized by her university to speak publicly.)

Weaver, 64, played collegiate field hockey and then coached for several years before landing a job as an associate athletic director in Minnesota. She then served as the athletic director at Penn State Abington, a Division III school. She graduated from the Penn program in 2009 and wrote her dissertation on starting the Big Ten Network.

“I was intrigued because I thought, ‘These college presidents don’t know anything about media. What do you do?’ When I wrote and interviewed them, they weren’t too sure how successful it was going to be, but oh my god, it changed everything.” A few years later, she proposed adding sports to the Penn program, and started teaching it in 2012. (There are other similar degrees, but Weaver thinks Penn’s is the only one that offers a sports component.)

Some proponents of college athletic reform preach reducing money or preserving various ideals of the student athlete. Weaver’s approach is less about editing the direction of college sports and more about embracing its reality. Her course is less philosophical and more practical.

There are some people in academia — often the non-sports fans, Weaver said — who tend to stay quiet when sports are happening on their campus. But the goal of her class is to make those people feel comfortable enough to be part of those conversations.

She told her students, “As this environment is changing so rapidly, every single leadership team needs to have this conversation: ‘Where do we fit into this transformative era?’ I hope some of you feel like you can go back to your campus and say, “Let’s talk about this; Let’s think about it.’ ”


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