Play Ball Or Play Fair: Forum Considers The Dilemma

January 27, 1992|By John Harris III | John Harris III,Staff writer

Big contracts for athletes and megabuck television deals have brought new meaning to the phrase, "win at all costs."

Scores and game stories now share space on the sports pages with accounts of scandals and academic probation.

Cleaning up sports' tarnished image was discussed Saturday by 250participants at the "Ethics and Athletics" forum, the sixth in a series of public debates sponsored by St. John's College.

The four-hour seminar in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium attracted high school and college coaches and athletes, who listened to former tennis star Arthur Ashe and prize-winning newspaper writer and editor Creed Carter Black.

Black is president of the Knight Foundation, which sponsored the Knight Commission, a 22-member panel of educators and political and sports figures that spent a year studying the role of sports in higher education. The commission offered a package of reforms last March that called for university presidents to exercise tighter control over athletic programs.

In his speech Saturday, Black denouncedabuses at the Division I level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, especially in football and basketball, the major revenue-producing sports.

"More than half of the Division I schools have been given some kind of sanctions from the NCAA, and a third of all professional athletes polled in a recent survey have taken illicit payments while they were in school," Black said.

"Some of these payments that the athletes received weren't from alumni or booster clubs. They came from plain, ordinary sports fans, who cling to the team of their choice," he added.

Ashe, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion, is a supporter of propositions 48 and 42, two NCAA regulationsdesigned to tighten admission standards for athletes.

The regulations have drawn fire from many in the athletic community, who have labeled them "racially biased." But Ashe disagrees.

"Do regular students who finish with a 2.0 in high school get to attend these universities? No, hardly any. But because of one's ability to shoot a jump shot with deadly accuracy, a marginal student-athlete is able to come in with much lower standards than the regular student.

"It's not that minorities can't do what's required of them. It's basically a lack of motivation," he said.

Proposition 48, implemented during the mid-1980s, requires incoming freshmen to attain a 2.0 grade-point average and a combined score of 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Proposition 42, adopted last month, will raise the minimum grade-point average for incoming freshman in 1996 to 2.5, while maintaining the SAT minimum score of 700.

And there are those who believe the Knight Commission and the NCAA haven't gone far enough. Rep. Tom McMillen,D-4th, a member of the Knight Commission, has introduced the CollegeAthletic Reform Act, which would streamline the way the NCAA adopts rules and pool and redistribute sports income generated by colleges.

Between the two speakers' presentations, participants split into groups of 20 to discuss assigned readings.

"I think a program such as this can raise the consciousness of some people," said Anne Arundel Community College soccer coach Ken Wolf, whose school has recently had its share of turmoil in its athletic program.

The Great Issuesforums, sponsored by St. John's, began in 1988 with a discussion of ethics and politics. Since then, hundreds have participated in debates on journalism, law, business and medicine. The series is sponsored by the Friends of St. John's College and the Office of Continuing Education.

"This discussion was a lot more policy-related than most. The others have been more philosophical in nature," said William Brill, Annapolis resident and president of the Friends of St. John's College.

"We seemed to have stumbled upon it," he said. "It got everyone involved. It was kind of an interesting contrast from the norm."

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