Do athletics and academics compete? Not at UF

Some of my Ivy League friends ask how I am adjusting to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, as president. Their perception is if a university has a highly ranked athletic program, it must be due to misplaced priorities, and it must come at a cost to academic stature.

My friends are correct on several points. First, UF has one of the nation’s highest-ranked athletic programs. For example, UF’s is the only program in the country to finish among the top 10 in each of the last 32 national all-sports standings. UF has captured 17 national championships since 2006, more than any other university in the nation. Florida teams in 12 different sports have won national titles, a record surpassed by only three universities in the country.

Second, top-ranked universities have damaged their reputations due to misplaced priorities and bad management related to athletics. Other university presidents have told me half their time is consumed with problems in their athletics programs.

Third, most universities subsidize their NCAA athletics with funds that could have been invested in academics.

At UF, we are different.

We are a university marked by comprehensive academic AND athletic excellence. Our goal is to be a university that the nation and the world look to for leadership in academics and athletics, and where all programs are well managed and implemented with integrity.

Where are we today? In my "unbiased" opinion, UF is among only a handful of universities, public or private, that is on track to consistently achieve these aspirations. For example, we have the correct financial priorities — academics at UF does not subsidize athletics. After the University Athletic Association pays all its expenses from the revenue it generates, it actually makes a contribution back to the university. UAA’s budget represents only about 2 percent of the university’s total budget.

Are academics and athletics at UF perfect? No. We know there is always room for improvement.

However, we are committed to two principles. First, we will always aspire to be the very best we can be and to be a national leader in how we do it. Second, although our goals include national distinction in all our academic and athletic programs, we will have, as our highest priority, the education and well-being of the students entrusted to us.

Superb athletics and academics can benefit each other. I am inspired in my own work by the commitment of our student-athletes and coaches to nationally ranked excellence — and their relentless hard work in being the very best. Our faculty remind me of the privilege of living and working in an environment where the discovery of knowledge, learning and the development of students is the premier goal.

There is much to cheer about academically and athletically at UF. I intend to be one of the loudest cheerleaders. Go Gators!