The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, often referred to simply as the Knight Commission, is a panel of members of the American academic, athletic and journalism communities, with an eye toward reform of college athletics, particularly in regard to emphasizing academic values and policies that ensure athletic programs operate within the educational missions of their universities.
The commission was founded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which was itself founded by brothers John S. Knight and James L. Knight, members of the founding family of what became the Knight Ridder newspaper and broadcasting chain. The commission first met in 1989 after a series of scandals in college sports. The founding co-chairmen of the commission were Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, and William C. Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina.
Currently, the commission serves as an advocacy group which seeks to reform college sports, primarily by promoting policies that strengthen academic standards for athletes, treat athletes as students first, and ensures financial integrity in college sports. As an independent commission, it has no official connection to governing bodies such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the primary sanctioning body for college sports in the United States, or any government agencies. But because of its blue ribbon panel and high profile within the news media, the commission's work carries considerable influence within college sports as a whole. Since its inception, the NCAA has adopted a number of Commission recommendations, particularly those that strengthened academic standards.
First report: Keeping Faith with the Student Athlete
The commission issued its groundbreaking report, Keeping Faith with the Student Athlete: A New Model for Intercollegiate Athletics, in 1991. In the report, the Knight Commission proposed a major overhaul in the way colleges run their athletic departments, proposing what it called the “one-plus-three” model — in which the “one,” control by the college president, is directed toward the “three” goals of academic integrity, financial integrity and independent certification. The report was influential in the implementation of many reforms by the NCAA, including a major restructuring within the NCAA itself, when in 1996 the governance of the association was taken away from college athletic directors and put into the hands of college presidents.
Second report: A Call to Action
In 2001, the commission issued its second major report, largely detailing what had transpired in the ten years since Keeping Faith was issued. A Call to Action: Reconnecting College Sports and Higher Education  reiterated almost all of the original report's recommendations, while taking note that roughly two-thirds of the reforms recommended in Keeping Faith had been implemented to one degree or another. A quote from the section titled "Ten Years Later," subtitled "The Arms Race":
A frantic, money-oriented modus operandi that defies responsibility dominates the structure of big-time football and basketball. The vast majority of these schools don't profit from their athletics programs: At over half the schools competing at the NCAA's Division I-A level in 1999, expenses exceeded revenues by an average of $3.3 million, an increase of 18 percent over the previous two years. On the other hand, for the 48 Division I-A institutions where revenues exceeded expenses, the average "profit" more than doubled, increasing 124 percent from $1.7 million to $3.8 million from 1997 to 1999... Too much in major college sports is geared to accommodating excess. Too many athletic directors and conference commissioners serve principally as money managers, ever alert to maximizing revenues. And too many have looked to their stadiums and arenas to generate more money.
One notable recommendation in A Call to Action was that the NCAA restrict participation in postseason to teams whose graduation rate is 50 percent or greater.
Third report: Restoring the Balance
The Knight Commission’s third report Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports  was released in 2010. It calls for strengthening accountability through transparency, rewarding practices that make academics a priority, and treating athletes as students first.
The Commission reemphasized a central recommendation in its 2001 report that teams be required to be on track to graduate at last half of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The NCAA voted to adopt this proposal in October 2011 using a metric the NCAA created in 2004 to project graduation rates based on eligibility and retention (the Academic Progress Rate). The new academic threshold for postseason eligibility will go fully into effect in 2015-16 after a phase-in period.
Financial data in the report revealed that athletics spending and subsidies provided by most FBS institutions to their athletics budgets are rising more quickly than educational budgets. This, together with opinions from a 2009 “Presidential Survey on the Cost and Financing of Intercollegiate Athletics,” underscored the Commission's urgency to address the escalating costs of college sports through collaborative measures, which require support from presidents, NCAA leadership, university boards of trustees and conferences across the country.
The Knight Commission continues to promote the recommendations in its 2010 report holding public meetings, funding research and releasing data to update the athletic and academic spending trends revealed in that report. In 2011, the NCAA adopted a policy recommended by the Knight Commission in its 2001 and 2010 reports to prohibit any Division 1 athletic team from participating in postseason competition if the team is not on track to graduate at least half its players as measured by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate. And, in 2012, leaders charged with the oversight of the future football playoff for Football Bowl Subdivision teams agreed with another Knight Commission recommendation to share revenue, for the first time in college football’s history, using academic performance as part of the funding formula. Nearly 10 percent of the playoff revenues will be rewarded to football teams that meet specified academic progress standards.
Current commission members
As of 2011, the commission's co-chairs are William English Kirwan, chancellor, University System of Maryland and R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University and founding chairman of the NCAA Certification Committee, which itself came about largely through the work of the Knight Commission.
Other better-known members:
- John J. DeGioia, president, Georgetown University
- Val Ackerman, former president, USA Basketball and founding commissioner, WNBA
- Michael F. Adams, president, University of Georgia
- Len Elmore, former CEO of iHoops, ESPN analyst and former standout basketball player for the University of Maryland, the NBA and the ABA
- Janet Hill, trustee, Duke University, wife of former Dallas Cowboys player Calvin Hill and mother of Grant Hill of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers
- Judy Woodruff, senior correspondent, PBS NewsHour
- Keeping Faith with the Student Athlete, www.knightcommission.org
- A Call to Action, www.knightcommission.org
- Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (2001). A Call to Action: Reconnecting College Sports and Higher Education. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, www.knightcommission.org
- “Presidential Survey on the Cost and Financing of Intercollegiate Athletics” (2009), www.knightcommission.org
- Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics 2011-12 Research Grants Initiative (2012), www.knightcommission.org.
- College Athletic Departments Spend Three to Six Times More per Athlete Than Their Institutions Spend to Educate Each Student (2013), www.knightcommission.org.
- NCAA adopts academic threshold for postseason eligibility (2011), www.knightcommission.org.
- Knight Commission's recommendation to include academic performance as a part of football revenue distribution process takes hold (2012), www.knightcommission.org.