President Robbins hosts The Future of College Athletics summit in Washington, D.C.

Future of College Athletics summit

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins delivers remarks during The Future of College Athletics summit June 8 in Washington, D.C. Also pictured is ESPN national college football insider Heather Dinich.

Photo by Michael Butcher for Jason Dixson Photography

Recognizing that a significant shift is underway in college sports, University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins hosted a national summit to seek diverse perspectives and identify potential solutions to some of the complex challenges facing college athletics.

The Future of College Athletics summit, held June 7-8 at the UArizona Washington, D.C. Center for Collaboration and Outreach, launched a new UArizona program called AZDC, which draws upon the university's intellectual resources to host thought-provoking events that address the pressing issues of today and tomorrow.

"We're here today to talk about solutions. I think there are plenty of people in this room who are smart enough to figure out solutions to a desperate problem we have in college athletics. To put it into a cardiac surgery term, I think we're in the ICU," Robbins, who is also a cardiothoracic surgeon, said at the event. "We are dependent on the U.S. Congress to try to help us, to work with us, to try to find some solutions. There's an opportunity here today to at least begin a dialogue about what are potential solutions to these very complex, very complicated problems."

To kick off the summit, prominent government officials, NCAA leaders, conference commissioners, coaches, student-athletes and representatives from college sports collectives attended an open-house style reception at the U.S. Capitol. UArizona Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke welcomed attendees, and Robbins spoke about the federal government's potential role in establishing national standards for college athletics. Rep. Lori Trajan (D-MA), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) and Rep. Martin Rosendale (R-MT) all attended the event.

The following day, there were four panels moderated by prominent sports journalists, including ESPN college football senior writer Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated senior writer Ross Dellenger, The Athletic senior writer Max Olson and ESPN senior writer Heather Dinich. Attendees also heard a special interview with Armen Keteyian, a widely respected author and sports journalist who has won 11 Emmy Awards and was a contributor for 60 Minutes.

ESPN Radio host Paul Finebaum kicked off the summit by detailing how fan passion for college athletics drives what has become a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Robbins noted the importance of ongoing collaboration by all stakeholders to identify and enact solutions at the federal and state levels, within conferences and universities, designed to respect and protect the rights and contributions of student-athletes across sports.

The panel discussions addressed four of the most pressing challenges in college sports.

A panel titled "What comes next in the wild, wild west of college athletics?" featured NCAA president and former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who identified three immediate priorities for the NCAA. Robbins and Amy Privette Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission, joined him on the panel. The discussion covered the lack of consistency regulating college athletics across the country, as well as media rights negotiations across conferences and universities and how to address the growth of sports wagering.

The "Name, Image, Likeness (NIL): What is the state of play?" panel featured UArizona women's basketball forward Maya Nnaji, University of Missouri director of athletics Desiree Reed-Francois, antitrust economist and OSKR services partner Andy Schwarz, and Walker Jones, executive director of the Grove Collective, the University of Mississippi's exclusive NIL program. Nnaji shared her personal story and her perspective on whether student-athletes should be treated as employees.

Following the interview with Keteyian, UArizona head football coach Jedd Fisch, Clemson University athletics director Graham Neff, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner James J. Phillips and Rice University quarterback JT Daniels discussed "Transfer rules and the transfer portal: What is the new world of college athletics?" Fisch provided his unique insight into how building a college football program has changed in terms of opportunities, and the unintended consequences of the transfer portal.

The closing panel, "What's really driving conference realignment?," included Southeast Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, Kansas University chancellor Douglas Girod, Altius Partners chairman and former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, and Dean Jordan, managing executive of global sports at Wasserman, a Los Angeles-based sports marketing and talent management company that represents sports and media talent, broadcasters, coaches and sports executives who play roles across every significant global sport, spanning six continents.


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