The holiday break provided little break from controversy in the world of college sports. Major attention was devoted to an extra-benefits issue at Ohio State. An excessive-celebration penalty in the Pinstripe Bowl prompted extensive discussion.
Eligibility issues – again. The number of high-profile eligibility and enforcement cases over the last several months attracted the attention of USA Today’s Steve Weiberg, who postulated Tuesday that it all reflects a renewed NCAA commitment to curtail professionalism among college athletes.
Weiberg’s piece is informative, although I do wonder at what point writers will abandon citations of the “plantation” metaphor for the current college athletics model (attorney David Cornwell was quoted to that effect). Participants in college sports are not compelled to participate, and their human needs – food, shelter, medical care, education – are routinely honored. To compare their condition to that of enslaved plantation workers minimizes the plight of Africans who were brought to this country in chains, routinely beaten, usually malnourished, seldom educated and deprived of liberty in every sense of the word.
The Ohio State football matter (five players suspended for games next year, but not for Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl) set off a bipolar reaction in the media. Most commentators appeared to believe the student-athletes should have been suspended for the bowl game. Others believed the five-game suspensions for next year were too harsh.
It’s fair game to criticize the NCAA, but writers should sharpen their aim before firing. In a Columbus Dispatch column, Rob Oller wrote: “When a school signs on with the NCAA, it agrees to allow the association to tighten the noose as it deems necessary. Break the rules and be left with an appeals process that seldom gets challenged in court. Could Ohio State refuse to accept the suspensions? Certainly, but then the NCAA could refuse to sanction the school’s varsity sports, which would mean no help with scheduling games, no officials to work those games and no opponents for those games; NCAA-member schools would be forbidden from playing the Buckeyes. No postseason tournaments, either. Ohio State would be left to schedule non-NCAA schools. At that point, it would make more sense to leave for the NAIA, which of course makes no sense at all.”
Well, we can agree on the last five words.
For what it’s worth, the NCAA provides no help in scheduling games, it does not assign officials for regular-season contests and it does not prevent teams from scheduling as they like, beyond reasonable requirements that reflect an institution’s divisional affiliation. Further, the insinuation that the NCAA appeals process is a sham is simply wrong.
Anyway, here’s some of what was written about the Ohio State episode:
Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor rulings are completely different (Tony Barnhart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
NCAA is sending wrong message (Sally Jenkins, Washington Post)
There’s no profit in standing up to NCAA (Rob Oller, Columbus Dispatch)
Jim Tressel, Ohio State can and should suspend players for Sugar Bowl (Pat McManamon, FanHouse)
NCAA denies playing favorites (The Associated Press)
NCAA issues rare response to critics (New York Times)
Pryor’s acts expose charade of college athletics (Yahoo Sports)
Ohio State mess fuels notion NCAA is making up rules as it goes along (Stewart Mandel, SI.com)
NCAA: Show me the money! (Frank DeFord, National Public Radio)
“Pay for Play.” Based on an interview from Inside Higher Education, I’m looking forward to reading Ronald A. Smith’s new book, “Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform.”
“Pay for Play” (Inside Higher Ed)
A couple of points from the interview are especially worth noting.
First, one rationale for substantial corporate/commercial support of athletics programs has been that the model mimics what is occurring elsewhere in higher education. Smith acknowledges this but says there is a fallacy in saying that commercialism on the academic side is invariably appropriate: “The commercialization and corporatization of colleges and universities to make money for their institutions from teaching, research and athletics is not new, but it is increasing − some say at an alarming rate. The fact that it started with a basically non-educational activity, athletics, is not surprising. That it is intensifying in medical schools, science research and for-profit distance education on the Internet is even more troublesome than what is occurring in athletics.”
The second point involves Smith’s vision for reform:
“Reform, to help ensure academic integrity in intercollegiate athletic programs, will continue to be unsuccessful until the major players are brought together. Presidents cannot, or will not, do so on their own as is the situation today in the NCAA. The major players, I believe, should be the presidents, governing boards (who set university policy), faculties (who have most to do with academic integrity) and students (who are directly involved in playing the games). They must be brought together to create rules that will improve the situation, so that the athletes become an integral part of the student body academically and a level playing field can be created athletically.”
Of course, a case can be made that presidents, faculty and students already are involved in NCAA decision-making, with the final authority for most decisions resting with the presidents. Smith, however, seems to suggest that better policy would come from having more varied perspectives directly involved in making ultimate decisions.
The observation about greater involvement for governing boards is worthwhile. Here’s what the late NCAA President Myles Brand said in an October 2006 speech at the National Press Club: “Presidents too will benefit from a well-defined relationship pertaining to athletics with their governing boards. The NCAA has entered into an agreement with the Association of Governing Boards (to help) educate new governing board members around the country on the proper relationship between boards that set policy in athletics and presidents who put those policies into action and oversee the campus athletics administration.”
No doubt that was a step in the right direction, but was it enough? Do board members need to somehow be formally involved in framing NCAA rules and policies?
It’s a long-term question, but given their importance to the enterprise, it’s something worth considering.
Deductive reasoning. The Washington Post recently included an op-ed piece from Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University public policy professor who encouraged discontinuation of the tax deduction for major college sports programs.
Stop the tax deduction for major college sports programs (Charles Clotfelter, Washington Post)
I’m all for a good tax-reform discussion, but I wasn’t overly persuaded by Professor Clotfelter’s arguments – at least not the ones he put forth in his column. Perhaps he holds an underlying assumption that athletics is not a genuine educational endeavor, but he never made that case. Instead, he seemed to object to people giving so they will have the opportunity to be entertained. In fact, many tax-deductible donation opportunities, including the United Way, come with recognition and incentive programs.
Tax reform is one of the most important issues facing the country, but the question should be approached systematically, not emotionally and not piecemeal.
High school drug testing losing its juice? The Dallas Morning News reported that a reduction in state funding is causing Texas to cut back on steroid testing for high school athletes.
Steroid testing program for high school athletes shrinks as state cuts funds (Dallas Morning News)
Sadly, this trend is almost certain to get worse as the state-government funding crisis accelerates. The Texas circumstance, no doubt playing out in other states, is concerning. To save money and to maximize the number of tests, the state’s high school governing body has tested for only 10 drugs (experts told the Morning News that 40 might be a more appropriate number). The 10 drugs that are tested for are not the most pervasive, leading to few negative tests and giving politicians permission to claim that the problem may be overstated.
It’s a happy day indeed if high school athletes are almost completely free of performance-enhancing drugs, but it’s far from certain that is truly the case. Legitimate testing is still necessary, even if states are unwilling to shoulder the burden themselves. Whether the cost has to be borne locally or as part of the regrettable (but increasingly common) pay-to-play arrangement in high schools, this is one issue that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.
Excessive celebration or excessive officiating? I can’t recall any officiating decision that generated the response of the excessive-celebration call in the final moments of the Syracuse-Kansas State Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30.
To review, Kansas State’s Adrian Hilburn scored to pull the Wildcats within two points with about a minute remaining. As he reached the back of the end zone, he briefly saluted the cheering Kansas State fans in the stands. Kansas State was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing conversion, a doubly stiff penalty since the Wildcats had to go for two. The conversion failed and Syracuse won, 36-34.
Suffice to say that media commentators did not back the call:
Officials should be accountable (Manhattan Mercury)
Double standard for celebrations (Mechelle Voepel, ESPN)
Zebra report: Sugar Bowl safety, celebratory salute and illegal substitution (Matt Snyder, FanHouse)
The NCAA Football Rules Committee established the excessive-celebration rule in 1995. At the time, there was widespread consensus that out-of-control behavior needed to be reined in, but even at the outset, the experts knew that interpretation was going to be a problem.
Clearly, that’s still the case. As authorities pointed out after the game, the call fell within the letter of the rule (in fact, salutes are specifically prohibited). However, I saw crowd salutes in other games in 2010 that were not called. Likewise, spontaneous first-down signals by players were flagged in some games but not in others.
This is a hard one. Control is obviously necessary, but a zero-tolerance approach doesn’t seem appropriate either.
Look for the Football Rules Committee to give this some consideration in February.
Division III academic reporting. On Wednesday, Division III issued the results of its pilot academic reporting program. The study showed that for the 115 schools that voluntarily submitted graduation-rates data, 66 percent of student-athletes who enrolled as freshmen in 2003 graduated within six year. That compares favorably with the 65 percent graduation rate for the general student body at the 444 active and provisional Division III member schools. The Division III rate also compares well with federal graduation rates for the most recent cohorts in Division I (64 percent for student-athletes; 63 percent for the student body) and Division II (56 percent for student-athletes; 47 percent for the student body).
How do grad rates of Division III athletes measure up? Quite well, NCAA says (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Athletes and students graduate comparably (Inside Higher Education)