Wednesday, May 26

Is The Problem Really Based On The Number of Phone Calls?

In my capacity as our institution’s faculty representative to the NCAA (the governing body of college athletics in the U.S.) I administer a coaching certification exam to our coaches and assistant coaches. Coaches need this certification in order to go on the road and recruit athletes. The exam is based on this huge manual that is full of rules concerning college athletics (the manual is a 3 meg download at Information in the manual includes things like:

--Begin Quote from Page 89 of the NCAA 2003-2004 Division I Manual --
13.02.12 Telephone Calls. Facsimiles and other electronically transmitted correspondence shall not be considered telephone calls. Prearranged electronically transmitted correspondence (i.e., the time and method for such correspondence had been designated in advance) between an authorized institutional staff member and one or more prospects and any electronic correspondence sent by “instant messenger” or similar means shall be considered a telephone call. The use of a pager to contact a prospect is considered a telephone call….
--End Quote from Page 89 of the NCAA 2003-2004 Division I Manual --

You can image what test questions look like (this is purely fictional – I would not divulge a real test question):

Jimmy is a recruit in both baseball and track. In the month of April he is sent an e-mail on Monday, a text page on Tuesday, and a FAX on Saturday. How many official phone calls has Jimmy had?

A) 0
B) 1
C) 2
D) 3

Given events in the news this last year, one wonders if these are the questions this exam should be concerned with. For example, maybe a better question would be:

Based on: (
In order to lure Jimmy to your program, you’d offer him:

A) The same things a non-athlete would be offered (campus tour, sit in on a class, meet with a faculty member, etc.)
B) Sex
C) Drugs
D) B and C.

Based on: (
In order to ensure your basketball players maximize their classroom experiences you should:

A) Have them take a normal course load in terms of type and number of courses.
B) Have them take a course “taught” by an assistant coach of their own team.
C) Have them take a course in basketball with a final exam consisting of twenty questions, one of which is “How many points is a three-point basket worth”?
D) B and C.

I like college athletics. Some of my most motivated and achieving students have been varsity athletes, and I can not imagine a college or university without an active athletic department. Colorado and Georgia are not alone in setting up a system where student-athletes are more athlete than student and the academic side gets laughed at (yes, yes, I realize this does not apply to all Buffalo and Bulldog athletes or programs).

Is there a problem with college athletics? I personally think so, and not just because someone who is supposed to be in college for an education gets an “A” for knowing that there are two halves in a whole game. I think the root of the problem is that we have moved from the ideal of college athletics being about college students who also get to compete at a high level athletically. I am worried we have moved to a system where college athletics:
1) Serves as a huge semi-pro system for the NFL and NBA that is cost-free (to the leagues) and where the cast-offs (the vast majority who come to play) have no career and no education. Let the NFL and NBA pay for their subordinate systems like baseball and hockey. People like Maurice Clarett (who clearly did not go to Ohio State for an education) would be better off with such a system and someone who wanted an education AND to play football could have had his slot.
2) Line the pockets of a few schools that run systems with control of $$$ as the top priority (do you REALLY think we don’t have a playoff system in DI-A college football because of concern about student welfare?)
3) Line the pockets of the TV networks and the corporations who advertise on them.

Do I think colleges should be prohibited from doing any of the above? No. I like the free market just fine, thanks. I do think, however, that colleges have the RIGHT to not do the above, and that people who run them should consider if the current system is in the best interests of the students (both those who compete and those who don’t). Reform will not come from the NCAA and cannot be solved on a school-by-school basis. University presidents, with the support of trustees (herein lies the weak link in the chain), will need to band together if anything is going to be done.

Could I do better? Not and keep a job as a college president. What needs to be done is so simple, but so radical and incongruous with what alums and society wants that it won’t happen. Just two simple rules would have a drastic effect on the problem. The goal would be to have STUDENTS playing sports vs. having athletes who have to go to class. The rules:

1) Require each TEAM at an institution to have incoming players with a median SAT and high-school GPA that is equal to, or great than, that of the rest of the incoming class. In addition, each team would be required, on a semester-by-semester basis, to maintain a median GPA and credit-hours earned that is equal to, or greater than, that of the rest of the student body. Change the number of games played and hours per week allowed for practice to allow the above to happen.

2) Do not allow any televised coverage of collegiate athletic contests (including bowl games). College athletics SHOULD cost the intuition money. Anything that costs money will be controllable by the administration. Anything that makes money will have a mind of its own. I grew up in Iowa. The top paid public employees in that state are coaches at Iowa State and Iowa. Not the governor. Not the college presidents. Not the scientists at the UI or ISU who perform life changing research. Coaches. What does this tell us?

WHAT? You mean I can’t see my team in action on Saturday? That’s right. So maybe you’ll support your local minor-league team. These guys put athletics first and are not taking slots away from students who want to learn. Yes, it would mean a lot of us would have to learn to do things differently (instead of hoping the Iowa Hawkeyes will be televised on a crisp fall Saturday I’d have to either go to a live game in my area or find a minor league team for which to cheer)

Why won’t this happen? We have decided that our principles are worth less than money. Any other answer comes back to this issue. CASH. Winning produces happy alums. Happy alums watch games on TV (indirectly providing TV revenue), buy team branded gear, buy tickets, and, most importantly, give money to the school.