Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom calls for UC Regent vote on new "lower-than-last" student-athlete academic standards


01-21-2015

(Sacramento) - Ahead of the University of California (UC) Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, California Lieutenant Governor and UC Regent Gavin Newsom today called for further scrutiny and a vote on the "lower-than-last" student-athlete academic performance policy, adopted by the Office of the UC President in December, in order to pursue higher standards.

The new policy ties the UC's standards to the NCAA's minimum benchmark, which is lower than all but one of the UC athletic programs' most recent academic progress ratings. The standard is also lower than the academic progress rating posted by UC Berkeley's football program, already ranked last in the Pac-12 by the NCAA's most recent academic progress ratings.

"This conversation started after the football program at UC Berkeley ranked last in the Pac-12 for academic performance, yet the new policy sets a standard beneath that failing grade," said Lt. Governor Newsom. "This lower-than-last benchmark clearly requires the UC's Regents, as the university's oversight and governing body, to step in and set a more ambitious direction for the University of California and ensure that these students receive a solid education in addition to their athletic experience."

Lt. Governor Newsom also opposed a proposal to surrender Regents' oversight of student-athlete policy by removing Regents from the process of approving the multi-million dollar contracts awarded to UC athletic personnel. The proposal was rejected by UC Regents in September 2014 but returns for a vote again on Thursday.

"This proposal is troubling on two fronts. First, it would abdicate the Regents' oversight over the contractual clauses that force Athletic Directors and coaches to take the academic performance of its student-athletes seriously. I remain unwilling as a Regent to consider ceding oversight until there is a change in organizational culture. It has not, and the underlying policy does not address that," said Lt. Governor Newsom. "Second, the UC is a public education system with economic challenges. Paying individual state workers with salaries worth millions of dollars needs more oversight, not less."

Background

The student-athlete academic policy, adopted by the Office of the President in December includes a "gatekeeper clause" in athletic contracts to establish a minimum level of academic performance for coaches to be eligible for performance incentive awards, a principle that Lt. Governor Newsom supports.

However, the UC's proposed gatekeeper clause would be tied to the minimum-required NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR), currently set at a four-year average APR of 930. Every Division 1 UC campus program, except men's basketball at UC Riverside, already surpasses the 930 APR. UC Berkeley, where the football program registers a Pac-12 lowest APR (at 938) according to the most recent NCAA report, would not be impacted by the benchmark.

The Office of the President also recommends that UC Regents cede its responsibility to the UC President to approve all Athletic Director and coaches' contracts above the indexed compensation level, which would include academic-performance related clauses. To emphasize the scale and importance of such contracts, it should be noted that UCLA's men's football coach is set to earn $21 million in a six-season contract, before bonuses of up to $930,000 annually.

Regents will not have an opportunity to vote on the new policy (available here) adopted by the Office of the President. The Board of Regents will vote on authorizing the UC President authority over athletic personnel contracts on Thursday January 22, 2015.

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