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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

NCAA’s reforms miss the point

By Julie Gunderson
Sports Editor

Friday, December 5, 2003

You would think, that the NCAA’s new policy to begin punishing programs that don’t graduate 50 percent of its athletes by taking away scholarships and threatening to ban them from postseason play would be enough to make a bald coach go even balder or a high school senior with a decent jump shot go pro. However, you won’t see overweight coaches clutching their chests and hyperventilating into brown paper bags just yet. Nor will you find athletic director scrambling to find loopholes in the new NCAA codes or see this year’s crop of McDonald’s All-Americans quaking in their $150 Nikes. While it may seem that the NCAA’s reform policy will only bring good to this era of scandal-ridden sports, it will, in all actuality, simply fuel the underbelly of college sports, which have been wrought with academic fraud for quite some time.

The NCAA’s move for reform was one made out of desperation. Knowing that the student-athlete is high on the endangered species list, the NCAA made what looks to be a purely academic decision in a last-ditch effort to save amateur athletics. After all, how long can the NCAA continue to claim to be molding the young minds of tomorrow when there are over 36 Division I schools that haven’t graduated a single men’s basketball player in the last five years? Or how can the organization persist in selling the wholesome student-athlete image when the public is no longer buying it? Especially when the fact remains that 43 of the 65 schools in last year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament had graduation rates below 50 percent and 13 of those schools had a zero percent African-American graduation rate. What, exactly, is the NCAA supposed to do this January in New Orleans, when they will most likely be forced to hand over the Sears Trophy to Oklahoma, a program which will see only 26 percent of its seniors don a cap and gown this May?

Nothing however, spells disaster for college athletics more than the 14-letter word a-c-c-o-u-n-t-a-b-i-l-i-t-y, mainly because there are no better people in the world more adept at skirting it than those in the college ranks.

In an age when high-profile athletes are given tutors at their beck and call, money to buy grades, and lenient professors eager to bend-over backwards for them, increasing academic standards will only pronounce the incompatibility that already exists between elite college athletics and the mission of universities.

It may be NCA President Myles Brand’s desire to try to reintroduce the word ‘textbook’ back into the vocabulary of today’s college athlete, but if the NCAA was truly serious about cracking down on the serious offenders in big-time college sports, they would be doing much more than merely asking their athletes to make an appearance in chemistry class every third Tuesday of the month.

Just what might that reform look like? For starters it might be good if someone went over there and asked Mr. Big Recruit to turn off the cell phone that he has surgically attached to his diamond-studded earlobe and hand over his six pagers, 12 gold chains, four Rolex watches, and the keys to his Mercedes. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might want to have him speed-dial his agent, broker and bookie and tell them they just lost another client.

There are plenty of ailments in college sports; so many that more than one remedy is needed. The truth is that the awkward marriage of higher education and big-business athletics has never worked. In today’s world of athletics, college basketball and football are not the bastions of amateurism they once were; rather, these sports have asserted themselves as cash cows in a million-dollar industry.

According to Business Week magazine, they're part of the best monopoly in America, more impressive than that of Microsoft or even the U.S. Postal Service. The NCAA's refusal to face up to the industry they created only breeds more corruption.

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