For a couple of years now, I have been urging the abolition of the NCAA. Not reform, but the outright dismantling of an organization that is deeply corrupt and brings no good to America’s college campuses.
In addition to the facts and arguments in previous posts, here is more evidence. Boston Globe Derrick Z. Jackson has been keeping track of how many big-time NCAA players actually get the one thing that going to college might do that would benefit them for the rest of their adult lives — getting a bachelor’s degree.
The sad fact is, most NCAA basketball players do not graduate with a diploma. Big-time college basketball operates pretty much as a minor league for the NBA with teams that just happen to be located on college campuses.
Here is Jackson’s latest report card on college graduation rates for the NCAA’s elite basketball players. Some lowlights:
It becomes clearer every year around the Bowl season that big-time college football is essentially a farm system for the NFL in which the players are not paid. That’s great for the NFL and for spectators; not so great for the players or the universities they supposedly attend.
How much more evidence does anybody need that the NCAA is a deeply corrupting force on U.S. college campuses?
Especially among the big-time Division 1 schools, the NCAA tarnishes everything it touches. Lately, I have been avoiding/following the coverage of the most recent scandal at my beloved alma mater, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (m.a., 1982). The proud flagship of the Carolina system, UNC-CH is a school with high ambitions — both academic and athletic. And that’s where the trouble starts.
In pursuit of the money and status associated with big-time televised college sports, UNC has chased ratings and championships for decades in men’s football, basketball, and lacrosse. Which raises the inevitable question: how can a college attract top-tier students who can also hack the academic requirements of a good school?
Which raises the inevitable answer: at least some of those athletes will manage it by getting a pass on their schoolwork. That, in turn, requires the active collaboration of coaches, deans, and professors who should know better. They are not serving those young athletic superstars by brooming them through school without actually learning anything. And they know it.
That’s the upshot of the scandal at UNC, which is detailed in a report by a former prosecutor, Kenneth L. Wainstein. Read the report here. It is a masterpiece of understatement.
Some of the coverage can be found here (an SI interview with the UNC athletic director, who is actually named “Bubba”)
As I read his latest column, the NYTimes’ Joe Nocera seems to be edging toward the realization that the NCAA is beyond reform and should be abolished. Today, he tells the story of whistle-blower Mary Willingham, who was hired as a tutor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for intercollegiate athletes.
I’m just catching up with a fine review by Caitlin Flanagan in the NYTimes Sunday Book Reviewabout what sounds like a fine book by William D. Cohan about the fiasco that was the Duke lacrosse “scandal” of 2006. Without re-hashing the accusations or the ensuing rush to judgment, the issue raises the question:
What educational role does intercollegiate lacrosse play at Duke University?
I think the answer is pretty obvious.
From Flanagan’s book review:
It has become possible, these past several decades, to think of Duke as consisting of a professional basketball team to which, bizarrely, a research university has attached itself. But it is the “nonrevenue” sports at Duke — and the school’s relentless, aggressive and very expensive campaign to build them into powerhouse brands — that have most radically changed the tenor of that campus. The strange centrality of the athletic program in the life of an academically excellent institution, and the many unintended consequences this situation has wrought, is the subject of William D. Cohan’s “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, and the Corruption of Our Great Universities.” The book is at once a masterwork of reporting and a devastating critique of a university that has lost its way.
. . . The ill-advised party that would end in the rape charges took place at the beginning of spring break, when the team was required to stay in Durham to practice. This forgoing of their vacation week had resulted in a new tradition in which players spent their off-hours partying, hard, in a kind of alternative spring break. At the beginning of the week, the coach came to practice with some $10,000 in cash, which he passed out to the players in fat wads. The absurd amount was ostensibly for meals, although many of the players were sons of wealthy families and could afford to buy their own chow. By that night, the cash was being spent on all the ancient vices: booze, gambling and the hiring of desperately poor women for sexual entertainment. The players chose to do all of these things, of course, and it was their responsibility to deal with any disastrous outcome that might result from them. But the way in which that huge pile of cash played its role in the events hangs over “The Price of Silence.” It raises the most disturbing questions about how Duke envisions its student-athletes, what it expects from them, how it is willing to accommodate them — and how it will drop them, completely, when they are no longer of use to the university. . .
Tallahassee, Fla. — Early on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, a freshman at Florida State University reported that she had been raped by a stranger somewhere off campus after a night of drinking at a popular Tallahassee bar called Potbelly’s.
As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear.
For nearly a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret until the woman’s allegations burst into the open, roiling the university and threatening a prized asset: Jameis Winston, one of the marquee names of college football.
Three weeks after Mr. Winston was publicly identified as the suspect, the storm had passed. The local prosecutor announced that he lacked the evidence to charge Mr. Winston with rape. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the national championship.
After a Florida State student accused quarterback Jameis Winston of rape, the police did not interview him or obtain his DNA. Phil Sears/Associated Press
In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.
Again I ask: what is the educational purpose of intercollegiate sports?
Now it appears that the NCAA is not content to corrupt American colleges and universities. The gargantuan semi-professional sports monopoly is now reaching not only into high schools but as far down the age ladder as junior high.
Today’s NYTimes has a page 1 enterprise story about the growing tentacles of NCAA coaches engaging in arms race to lock in young athletes at lower and lower ages. A key passage:
The heated race to recruit ever younger players has drastically accelerated over the last five years, according to the coaches involved. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed soccer and other recreational sports from after-school activities into regimens requiring strength coaches and managers.
The practice has attracted little public notice, except when it has occasionally happened in football and in basketball. But a review of recruiting data and interviews with coaches indicate that it is actually occurring much more frequently in sports that never make a dime for their colleges.
Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.
I’m not sure this was what anyone had in mind when Title IX was passed in 1972 to put women’s and girls’ sports on an equal footing with male sports. Why can’t we just let kids run around and get some exercise? Sheesh.
Recently, the Times invited readers to send in letters for a “Sunday Dialogue” concerning the NCAA. The prompt for the letters involved a rather arcane point, internal to the NCAA, about whether the top 1% of teams by revenue should break off from the NCAA.
I didn’t think that was a great question, but I wrote anyway. The Times did not print my letter (probably because it was a bit off-subject). But I have a blog, so here it is:
To the Editor:
As an associate professor at Boston University (a school with 23 NCAA Division 1 teams, including a top-10 men’s hockey team), I have had many student athletes in my classes over the years. The question I have is this: what educational purpose does the NCAA advance? What is the educational benefit of intercollegiate sports?
At the start of nearly every semester, I have one or more students approach me after the first lecture. They hand me letters from the Athletics Dept. telling me in advance which classes these students will be missing and requesting my “cooperation” with their athletic schedules. I often wonder why my students need to travel as far as the West Coast, during the regular season, to run around in shorts and chase balls. They miss classroom experiences that, I believe, they can never truly make up.
I also wonder why NCAA athletes train year-round. A few years ago, I had a student in a class who was on BU’s swimming and diving team. She missed a number of classes for swim meets, then missed a few more because the team had earned its way into a tournament. Finally, her season was over. When she returned to class, I welcomed her back and observed that now she would have a lot more free time. Not so fast. She explained that although the season was over, the team would go right on holding practices, which she was obliged to attend. In fact, she said, they could step up their training now, because they would not be traveling to meets.
I believe young people should get exercise, but I think that’s true for all college students. They should all have sound bodies. But I don’t see the educational value in having a small fraction of the student population training intensively, year round, in ways that undermine the real reason they should be on campus.
The NYTimes adds to the pile of reasons to abolish the NCAA. The athletes who play for big-time college teams sign a letter when they are in high school declaring the name of the school where they intend to play. This was originally meant to signal to recruiters from other schools to cease and desist. But, under the iron law of unintended consequences, today’s story indicates that these letters have morphed into what amounts to a “reserve clause,” like the one that used to tie professional baseball players to their team owners. Increasingly, college players are thwarted in their attempts to transfer.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for the “student athletes” who want to switch schools, but then I realize: they are not transferring to find a better English department or more-advanced physics labs. They are acting like professional athletes in any sport who want to do what’s best for their athletic careers (not their educations).
Proponents of transfer limits say that they are put in place to prevent coaches from continually attempting to lure athletes from other universities, which could create a never-ending recruiting cycle. Critics counter that the rules make it much too easy for coaches to act punitively, penalizing athletes for changing their minds about decisions made when they were teenagers.
Coaches cannot fully prevent athletes like Lunt from transferring to any university they want. But if a coach does not grant an athlete a release, the player must forfeit any scholarship opportunity, pay his own way to the new university and sit out the next season. Meanwhile, Gundy, whose contract pays him $30.3 million over eight years, and other coaches can routinely move from one college to another with minimal consequence, often for bigger contracts after arranging a buyout with the first college.
Not only that, but the article includes the startling figure that nearly 500 mens basketball players transferred from one college to another last year.
500 basketball players switching schools!
(That’s one sport, one gender, from a sport with a fairly small roster. How many total athletic transfers take place in a year?)
Now, let’s acknowledge that, on average, these are not the strongest students on our campuses, and let’s acknowledge that transferring is disruptive and probably sets most students back somewhat.
How much sense does this make?
Again, I ask: what educational purpose does the NCAA serve?