SBD/January 23, 2012/Colleges

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  • N.Y. Times Magazine Looks At The Role Of Athletics On College Campuses

    For “good or ill, big-time sports has become the public face of the university, the brand that admissions offices sell, a public-relations machine thanks to ESPN exposure,” according to a front-page piece by N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's Laura Pappano, who wrote under the header, "How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life." Univ. of Maryland Chancellor and co-Dir of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics William Kirwan said, “There is certainly a national conversation going on now that I can’t ever recall taking place. We’ve reached a point where big-time intercollegiate athletics is undermining the integrity of our institutions, diverting presidents and institutions from their main purpose.” Campus life itself “revolves around not just going to games but lining up and camping out to get into them.” Pappano asks, “Has big-time sports hijacked the American campus?” The word today is “balance,” and the “worry is how to achieve it.” Allen Sack, president-elect of the Drake Group, a “faculty network that lobbies for academic integrity in college sports,” said, “It’s become so important on the college campus that it’s one of the only ways the student body knows how to come together.” College sports “doesn’t just demand more and more money; it is demanding more attention from fans.” Univ. of Oregon economic professor Dr. Glen Waddell “compared transcripts of over 29,700 students from 1999 to 2007 against Oregon’s win-loss record.” He said, “Here is evidence that suggests that when your football team does well, grades suffer.” For every “three games won, grade-point average for men dropped 0.02, widening the GPA gender gap by 9 percent.” Women’s grades “didn’t suffer.” In a separate survey of 183 students, “the success of the Ducks also seemed to cause slacking off: students reported studying less (24 percent of men, 9 percent of women), consuming more alcohol (28 percent, 20 percent) and partying more (47 percent, 28 percent).”

    THE TV EFFECT: Pappano notes TV “has fed the popularity” of college sports. Murray Sperber, author of “Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Has Crippled Undergraduate Education,” said that the “more professional big-time college sports has become, the more nonathletes have been drawn in.” In the last 10 years, the number of college football and basketball games on ESPN channels “rose to 1,320 from 491.” Schools “make scheduling sacrifices not just for the lucrative contracts but also because few visuals build the brand better than an appearance on ESPN’s road show ‘College GameDay.’” Pappano asks “what would balance really look like” between athletics and academics? Duke Univ. officials “pride themselves in offering both an excellent education and a stellar sports program.” Since members of the school’s lacrosse team were accused of rape six years ago, university leaders have had “to think hard about the relationship between academics and athletics.” Duke VP & AD Kevin White now “reports directly to the president” of the school. Duke law professor James Coleman Jr., “who is chairman of the faculty athletics council and was chairman of the committee that investigated the athletes’ behavior,” said that it “was part of structural changes to more healthily integrate athletics into university life.” Coleman calls sports “a public square for universities,” but also acknowledges how rising commercialism comes with strings that “have become spider webs.” Coleman: “The key thing is to control the things you can control and make sure the athletic program doesn’t trump the rest of the university, as it has in some places. These presidents have to do more than pay lip service to this notion of balance between athletics and academics.” Pappano notes Coleman has “also tried to foster rapport between faculty members and the athletic department.” He said, “The difficulty is having faculty understand athletics. Both sides need to cross lines. Otherwise, it becomes these two silos with no connection” (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 1/22 issue).

    IMPROPER PUNISHMENT? In N.Y., Joe Nocera wrote, "In America, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unless, that is, he plays college sports.” Nocera wrote, “I had always assumed that if an athlete was sanctioned by the NCAA, he must have done something wrong.” However many NCAA infractions “consist of actions that most people would consider perfectly appropriate -- and entirely legal -- but that the NCAA has chosen to criminalize.” Today’s case in point is “the ongoing NCAA harassment” of Univ. of Connecticut basketball player Ryan Boatright. Boatright was “under investigation for accepting ‘improper benefits’ in high school” in Illinois. As a result, Boatright was “immediately suspended” from the team “otherwise it risked forfeiting games Boatright played in.” Nocera wrote that is “why I say that players are punished before they even know the charges against them.” The school suspended the player for six games and required Boatright “to come up with $100 a month to repay the ‘impermissible benefit’” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/21).

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