by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
A team with a star player is a good team, but a team without one is a great
Commentary of the Day - April 29, 2000: It's Time to Reform College
The Irascible Professor is pleased to see that there has been a recent
interest in reforming college athletics. Corruption in college and university athletic
programs in the United States has been endemic for decades. Hardly a week goes by
without notice of another college or university being sanctioned or disciplined by the
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for violations of its oft times confusing
and arcane rules. Corrupt practices in college and university athletic programs mostly
fall into two distinct categories -- monetary corruption and academic corruption. The
media generally pays more attention to problems involving monetary corruption than it
does to corrupt practices on the academic side. However, some people in academia are
beginning to ask questions about the corrupt academic practices associated with college
and university athletics. These academic abuses can take many forms, but the outcome
usually is the same. The so-called student athlete either never earns a degree, or else
earns a degree that provides him or her with little preparation for a career outside
athletics. The overall effect is that many athletes -- particularly those recruited to
participate in major sports such as football and basketball -- end up without the
education that they have been promised. Far too often these athletes come from the
ranks of the severely disadvantaged. Instead of receiving a transforming experience in
college, they leave even more disadvantaged.
The National Alliance for College Athletic Reform (NAFCAR) recently met
Moines, Iowa to consider proposals that would reduce the level of academic corruption in
college athletics. The founder of this group is Jon L. Ericson, former provost of Drake
University, and the current director of the alliance is Murray A. Sperber, professor of
English and American studies at the Bloomington campus of Indiana University.
Sperber is the author of College Sports, Inc. and Onward to Victory - The Crises that
Shaped College Sports. In the latter book Sperber notes that relatively few college and
university athletic programs are self-supporting. Fewer than 30 actually bring in
enough money from ticket sales and television revenue to cover their costs. All the
remaining programs lose money, and must be supported by money drained from the
The recent NAFCAR conference produced the following working paper:
College athletics has been transformed into a multi-billion dollar entertainment
industry that has compromised the academic mission of the university. To restore
academic integrity, to fulfill our obligation as faculty, and to protect the welfare of
all students, we propose that:
1. Faculty and administrators abandon the use of the term "student-athlete".
Students who participate in athletics shall be referred to as students, or athletes,
but not "student-athletes".
2. Faculty senates oversee and control the academic counseling and
programs for athletes, and universities shall remove control of these functions from
athletic departments. In addition, universities shall provide academic support for
all students, and abandon the practice of providing academic support on the basis
of athletic status.
3. Universities publicly disclose the academic major, academic adviser,
listed by academic major, general education requirements, and electives, including
course GPA and instructor for all students. No individual's grades will be disclosed.
The university will disclose for each intercollegiate athletic team the
enrolled in by team members, the average of the grades given in the course, and
instructor of the course at the end of the semester.
Because the Buckley Amendment is invoked to prevent academic accountability,
disclosure may require a challenge to the amendment and to the way universities
4. Universities reduce the number of intercollegiate athletic contests.
5. Universities eliminate "athletic scholarships" while expanding
of need-based aid. Until such time that scholarships are eliminated, faculty senates
should ensure that athletes who face contradictory demands from coaches and
faculty can defer to the latter without losing financial aid.
Recommendations 3 and 5 would, in the opinion of the Irascible Professor,
go a long way
towards eliminating the abuses prevalent in college and university athletics today.
They would help preserve the positive aspects of intercollegiate athletics, while
returning these sports to a truly amateur status. To these five proposals, the IP would
add a sixth. Namely, that colleges and universities should not be allowed to recruit
individual athletes to their programs. In other words, all participants in college sports
ought to be "walk-ons" who are students first, and athletes second.
The IP realizes that those 20 to 30 institutions of higher education that
money from their athletic programs, and perhaps another hundred or so that feel that
they ultimately derive economic benefit from their academic programs are likely to be
very unhappy with these proposals. In those cases, he is willing to go along with the
suggestion of Jerry Pyle, who is a professor of physical education at Concordia College.
Pyle's proposal would allow colleges and universities to own minor league sports teams.
The players would be paid employees of these teams, and would not be required to attend
© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.