Hoping to improve college athletics

Faculty, media team up at Drake to discuss ideas

Colleges

October 24, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa -- For a 24-hour period that ended Friday afternoon, a group of academic faculty and media figures huddled at Drake University, trying to create remedies for the ills of college athletics.

At the end, the 50 or so participants in "College Sports Corruption: The Way Out" discussed a dozen ideas, proposing none of them, but forming a group to discuss them some more.

In the absence of any concrete proposals to present to faculty senates, triumph was gleaned from the meeting itself, believed to be the first among a faculty majority to address ways of cleaning up college athletics.

"We took a significant step," said Jon Ericson, a Drake professor and former provost who was director of the conference. "We have 12 to 14 proposals that constitute a working document to take home, and prepare our briefs."

The most radical of the ideas had to do with the elimination of athletic scholarships in favor of need-based aid and the disclosure of academic records for all students, except for individual grades.

None of this is new, Indiana University professor Murray Sperber said, and "a lot of it reads like the Carnegie Foundation report," which was published in 1929. Sperber, author of several books about college athletics, including College Sports Inc., said this conference is the most recent of a long line of those trying to end corruption, the most recent being the Knight Foundation.

"There have been waves of reform movements," Sperber said. "Now, we're in a trough where the problems of college sports are not on the agenda. Most of us feel isolated, so it helps if you can come together."

Those at the conference hope that they will eventually be able to present something to faculty senates, who would in turn revise policy on matters involving student-athletes.

The conference took place in the wake of several black eyes in the world of college sports, the most recent being the arrest of Florida State star and Heisman Trophy candidate Peter Warrick on felony theft charges.

Within the past seven months, allegations of academic fraud have arisen within the Minnesota men's basketball program, and more recently, the Tennessee football program. William C. Dowling, professor of English at Rutgers, said the incidents should be defined as closer to the rule than the exception.

"It's standard operating procedure," said Dowling, who is leading a group to de-emphasize athletics at Rutgers. "Why is the Minnesota scandal called a scandal? The only difference is that it came to light."

One of the panelists was Dale Brown, former basketball coach at Louisiana State, who praised the conference as being better than the ones he's attended in the past on similar subjects.

"I'd quit going to these things," he said. "I tried to get out of SEC spring meetings because I don't think that any of us were making ourselves transparent," Brown said. "I don't think there's anybody who is anti-athletics, though there are some who don't have a lot of respect for it."

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