College sports appear to be at a crossroads: is their purpose the entertainment of fans, or the education of students? The NCAA is beset with scandals, anti-trust lawsuits, calls for reform, and manic conference hopping—all signs that college sports has an identity crisis that begs to be resolved. Our panel considers the future of a beloved, embattled American institution. Featuring Craig Robinson, Joe Nocera, Taylor Branch, Tom Farrey, and Wallace Renfro."
Taylor Branch is an American author and public speaker best known for his narrative history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63, won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards in 1989. Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968. In October 2011, The Atlantic published Branch’s capsule history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): “The Shame of College Sports.” When that essay sparked national debate, Byliner.com released an expanded e-book version called The Cartel, which is available online or by print-on-demand. Branch’s 2009 memoir, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, tells of his unprecedented eight-year project to gather a sitting president’s comprehensive oral history on tape.
Tom Farrey is an Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ESPN and the author of Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children. He was honored in 2007 as one the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport at the University of Rhode Island. Farrey is also director of the Aspen Institute’s new Sports and Society program, a vehicle for convening leaders and fostering dialogue around topics of critical importance. The program helps inspire solutions to major issues so that sport can serve the public interest, starting with the health needs of children and communities.
Joe Nocera is an op-ed columnist at The New York Times. Before joining the opinion pages in 2011, he wrote the Talking Business column and was a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. He also serves as a regular business commentator for NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” Before joining the Times in 2005, Nocera spent ten years at Fortune, where he held a variety of positions, including contributing writer, editor-at-large, executive editor, and editorial director. He was the Profit Motive columnist at GQ until May 1995, and he wrote the same column for Esquire from 1988 until 1990. Nocera has won three Gerald Loeb Awards, including the 2008 Award for Commentary, and three John Hancock Awards for excellence in business journalism. He is the author of three books, including All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.
Wallace Renfro is vice president and chief policy advisor for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He has worked more than four decades in the communications and public relations field, including nearly 40 years at the NCAA. He has served in various public relations functions and was director of public relations from 1997 until his departure in 2002 to form Renfro & Associates Communications Solutions. Renfro returned to the NCAA in 2003 and in 2008 was named vice president and senior advisor to the president. Since his return, he has helped draft the NCAA’s first association-wide strategic plan in 2004 and was the primary author of the public report, The Second-Century Imperatives: Presidential Leadership~Institutional Accountability, for the Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics. He is also the author of a to-be-published essay entitled Amateurism, Professionalism and Commercial Activity in Intercollegiate Athletics: An Ambivalence of Principles.
Craig Robinson is the head coach of Oregon State University’s men’s basketball team. In his fourth season, Robinson led the Beavers to their best season in decades, winning more than 20 games for the first time since 1989-90. Prior to OSU, he led Brown University to their best two-year record in history and was named Ivy League Coach of the Year. He is also the author of the New York Times best-seller, A Game of Character.
Joe Nocera, op-ed columnist at The New York Times, and Craig Robinson, brother-in-law to President Barack Obama and head coach of the Oregon State Beavers' basketball team, question the current state of NCAA sports.