Mass media can do so many things well. Why do they so often foul it up with flawed commentary?
Last week, Katie Thomas of the New York Times wrote an outstanding piece on how some institutions may be manipulating rosters to comply with Title IX. Some of the practices may be legal and others may not, but the story made a persuasive case that the spirit of Title IX is experiencing a number of end runs.
So, that’s good. Everybody benefits from quality journalism such as this, even if the stories sometimes take us to awkward places.
Alas, the media world contains too few Katie Thomases and way too many commentators.
Today, we offer this from Percy Allen of the Seattle Times: “The NCAA is a greedy, money-sucking, self-serving, soulless entity that’s lost sight of its mission statement. But then we already knew that.”
Well, no, we don’t know that.
The issue was last week’s Division I Board of Directors decision to shorten the amount of time that elite basketball players have to “test the waters” on entering the NBA draft. This action was unpopular among basketball writers, many of whom used at as evidence to demonstrate that the NCAA shills for prominent coaches at the expense of student-athletes.
Had the action gone the other way, writers would have been queued up taking the Board to task for not being sensitive to the plight of coaches (and returning athletes) as they struggle to determine their rosters for the following year.
This we’ll-zing-you-one-way-or-the-other attitude also played out with the recent Gerald Gurney flap. The former Oklahoma academic athletic advisor got a ton of love from Inside Higher Education and the Chronicle of Higher Education for commenting that Division I academic standards for entering student-athletes are too lax. The inference was that the rules were relaxed to make room for high-quality athletes who are unprepared academically. Late last week, the Chronicle’s Brad Wolverton blogged to prepare the ground for a letter from Division I Academic Cabinet chair Carolyn Callahan, faculty athletics representative at the University of Virginia. Callahan rightly took Gurney’s commentary to task for misrepresenting the purpose of the standards (they are national minimums, not institutional standards) and overlooking the outcome (more African-Americans in the cohort, higher graduation rates in football and men’s basketball).
What if Division I had not changed its rules to reduce or eliminate the disparate impact? A number of student-athletes now possessing college degrees would have been denied a chance to enroll. Would the Chronicle be bothered by that outcome? My guess is yes, with the NCAA getting bashed from the opposite direction on the same issue.
Commentary can be a wonderful spice that furthers understanding by adding perspective, wit and passion. Used carelessly, it can confuse, mislead and trivialize as writers position for the most damning angle they can find.
But then we already knew that.