Regaining Control of Sports

January 14, 1991

"We're definitely headed in the right direction," University of Maryland College Park's William E. "Brit" Kirwan said at the end of the NCAA's annual convention in Nashville last week. That may have been an understatement. The 1990 convention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association might be remembered as the point at which educators regained control of their campuses.

A series of reforms proposed by the NCAA Presidents Commission was passed -- aimed at putting the "student" back in the phrase "student-athlete." The number of athletic scholarships was cut. The number of allowable coaching positions was cut. The number of hours of practice required of players was cut. Athletes-only dormitories were forbidden. Schedules were cut. The groundwork was laid for a real strengthening of academic requirements next year.

Many athletic directors and coaches of major sports at the biggest football and basketball schools oppose this. So will many fans. One athletic director said, "the presidents aren't really educated in athletics." That's true. But they are in charge and responsible. The NCAA made that clear in 1985, when it began penalizing schools for the crime of "lack of institutional control" of their athletic departments. College Park was hit with one of those penalties, which will cost it about $3 million. No longer will a president get off the hook with the NCAA by saying, "the basketball coach did what he did without my knowledge" -- even if that were true. Since the presidents are legally responsible for what happens in their athletic departments, they have to be in charge, too.

Some skeptics have seen the pressures of big-time football and basketball -- and the television millions they generate -- overwhelm educators' reforms before. They wonder if the president really mean it this time. The presidents better mean it. Rep. Tom McMillen of Maryland and others in Congress seek even more reform within athletic departments. They threaten legislation that could result in severe economic penalties unless changes now begun continues.

As sweeping as last week's NCAA reforms may appear to fans, coaches and athletic directors, they have to continue. These reforms must move university sports programs in the right direction rather than simply putting a cosmetic facelift on problems that now confront college athletics.


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