University of Hartford President Walter Harrison was recently recognized with two major honors for his efforts on intercollegiate athletics. On Thursday, Jan. 15, he was presented with the NCAA’s prestigious Gerald R. Ford Award at the 2015 NCAA Convention in Washington, D.C., and on Wednesday, Jan. 14, he was appointed to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
Over the past 10 years, Harrison has spearheaded sweeping academic reform efforts as the first and only chair of the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Academic Performance.
“I am extremely proud to be honored with this award, but also extremely humbled,” President Harrison said at the ceremony as he accepted the NCAA’s President’s Gerald R. Ford Award. “Proud not only because it is a higher award than I ever thought I would earn, but also because my wife, Dianne, and I knew President Ford and his wife, Betty, during our years at the University of Michigan. To be among the earlier winners of this award—from Father Hesburgh…to John Wooden and Pat Summit—and to have an award named after a president I so much admired for his humility and human touch is unspeakably wonderful.”
The Ford award is named in recognition of Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States and a member of two national championship football teams at the University of Michigan. The award honors an individual who has provided significant leadership as an advocate for college sports over the course of his or her career.
It was established in 2004 by the late NCAA President Myles Brand and was first awarded to former Notre Dame President Theodore Hesburgh. Other past recipients of the award have included former UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden, former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, tennis great Billie Jean King, and former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. Click here to read the full NCAA release.
“Dreams (call them hopes, plans, or life quests) define the human condition. The Committee on Academic Performance, with the strong and consistent backing of the Division I Board of Directors, made those dreams possible for hundreds of thousands of student athletes over the past decade, and those athletes took the initiative and made their dreams possible,” Harrison said of the committee's work.
“During the past decade almost 14,000 student athletes graduated from college who would not have without the academic reforms the Association and its membership made possible,” he added. “You have made their lives so much richer than they would have been without their degree,” he told those attending the NCAA Convention.
President Harrison also said, “I receive this award at a very tumultuous and possibly dangerous time for Division I athletics. An enormous influx of dollars into intercollegiate sports has brought with it huge pressures that threaten to rend us asunder. The courts, with little experience with college sports, will now make decisions that may forever change our world, many of them not for the better. And the administration and Congress increasingly think they may have a better idea about how to govern collegiate sports.
“I know the threats, but I do not know the outcomes. I do, however, know this: we must keep the collegiate model of athletics alive and vital. It is the only moral reason why college sports exist,” he said.
Harrison will be able to continue his work to improve the academic success of student-athletes as a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. On Jan. 14, he was one of four new members appointed to the Knight Commission.
Following is an excerpt from the Knight Commission press release announcing the new appointments:
"The Knight Commission continues its work to promote a reform agenda that emphasizes the educational mission of college sports. Over the years, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Commission’s recommendations including the rule that requires teams to be on track to graduate more than 50 percent of their players in order to be eligible for postseason championships.
“Walter Harrison has been particularly active on NCAA academic reforms, having chaired the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance since its establishment in 2004. That committee is most noted for its creation and oversight of the Academic Progress Rate, which tracks academic performance for all Division I sports teams and poses sanctions, including postseason restrictions, for teams that do not meet prescribed academic standards.”