To make grade, college sports must be privilege, not a right

Phil Jackman

May 22, 1991|By Phil Jackman

Almost daily since the Knight Commission Report on Intercollegiate Athletics shone like a beacon in the daylight a couple of months ago, stories of the continuing corruption on campus have flowed unabated.

The results of special admission surveys benefiting the athlete in outrageous fashion have combined with tales of interest-free loans to the perspiring artists, lousy graduation rates, the usual assortment of police-blotter indiscretions and the bi-weekly announcements of the NCAA looking into yet another aspect of the way business is conducted at Nevada-Las Vegas.

It has been clear for decades that post-secondary basketball and football have been culprits 1 and 1A as the causes why college sports in general come away with such a putrid reputation. Yet rarely is the primal cause given much play.

Item: A 17-year-old, who just so happened to possess some wondrous moves around the bucket, was discovered dragging down minimum wage to run errands and answer phones in the school office in lieu of attending Algebra and English classes.

Item: A coach, noted for his ability to mold championship teams, has been cited no less than four times for using ineligible players. Whatever happened to the old expression one, two, three strikes yer out?

Item: Schoolboy hockey teams in a nearby state are allowed no fewer than five misconduct penalties during the course of a season while still qualifying for the state tournament. Oh, it's up to the individual school to keep track of its misconducts.

Item: In these days of budget-trimming everywhere, a school district proposed dropping girls soccer and the resulting yelps registered a healthy 6.1 on the Richter scale. A solution was soon found: Curtailing library services.

Item: A squabble over the right of an athletic association to declare forfeits when a school uses ineligible players somehow made it all the way to a state Supreme Court before being reaffirmed.

Item: Without a high school diploma, a hotshot quarterback (28 TD passes, four interceptions) enrolled at the state university this semester so he could take part in spring football drills.

Item: A coach of a nationally known basketball program decided to leave when the school moved to scale down, but continued to "counsel" his players and most (surprise!) followed him out the door.

Item: The principal of a school ordered a academically-ineligible kid off the basketball team, but the coach needed his 48 points a game average and played him anyway.

Given the time and space, we could go on for about a week.

Time was when participation in sports, or any extra-curricula activity for that matter, was a privilege, a reward, not a right. Suggestions that the privilege be revoked should a kid fail three, four or five subjects are met with protest marches, threats and civil disobedience. Nowadays, it seems sports participation is an outright priority.

Just the other day, it was announced a parochial school that had been in the business of education for years will close due to tough economic times. "It's a tragedy, taking [so-and-so] out of the basketball picture," sighed the coach of two years. It would have been nice had he at least given mention to the legions of productive citizens the school had helped produce, or those future legions being deprived.

Why? They don't get their name mentioned every Monday in USA Today for scoring 57 points in a 103-46 romp over PS 33. They didn't make Parade Magazine fourth team All-America. They didn't cause college recruiters to show up in the gym once a few of the kids grew past 6-foot-6 or 225 pounds in the seventh grade. They weren't responsible for the school being invited to the Rotary Club Christmas Festival tourney in Miles City, Montana.

While it's nothing shy of scandalous what college athletics have become -- Knight Commission co-chair Rev. Ted Hesburgh says, "It's time to clear the scum from the swamp of college sports" -- a lot of the things that go on in secondary athletics is downright criminal.

A high school education or a reasonable facsimile thereof is a birthright. The way too many kids test, both regular students and athletes alike, suggests the job isn't getting done. The colleges should be screaming bloody murder about the so-called students being offered them, instead of acting as a model of expedience.

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