The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

                    A team with a star player is a good team, but a team without one is a great
                    team....  ...anonymous.

                    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 resurgence of
                    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 in Des
                    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
                    academic budget.

                    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 support
                         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, courses
                         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 courses
                         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
                         interpret it.

                         4.  Universities reduce the number of intercollegiate athletic contests.

                         5.  Universities eliminate "athletic scholarships" while expanding the availability
                         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 actually make
                    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

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© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.