Column: Colleges Need to Rearrange Their PrioritiesMarch 15, 2015
I have railed against complex and inconsistent rules, exemplified by the incomprehensible distinction between a plain bagel and one smeared with cream cheese. Not too long ago providing the former to a student-athlete was considered acceptable but the latter was considered a violation of the Bylaw that prohibits additional benefits to student-athletes. Mercifully, that mind boggling and idiotic distinction has been eliminated. Another frequent complaint is that the NCAA has repeatedly chosen to maximize revenue in lieu of protecting the welfare of student-athletes. And don’t even get me started on such topics as a lack of transparency and due process.
But in fairness to the NCAA, it is a voluntary membership organization consisting of approximately 1,100 colleges and universities in three divisions. The NCAA is run by its members. University presidents are ultimately responsible for the direction and operation of their oversight organization, which includes 500 employees at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. If the presidents aren’t happy with the direction of the NCAA, they have the ability to make changes. But possessing that ability is one thing; having the will to exercise it is quite another. Presidents have shown that they prefer less oversight - especially when it comes to their own institutions - rather than more.
Recent examples include the violations at Syracuse which was cited for “a lack of institutional control” over the athletic department and the revelations at the University of Tennessee (UT) that the athletic department has interfered with the discipline of student-athletes. At Syracuse, the NCAA accused men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim of failing “in his responsibility to promote an atmosphere of compliance.” Translated, that means he did not run a “clean” program that complied with NCAA rules and regulations. It’s not the first time during Boeheim’s 40-year run as head coach at Syracuse that sanctions have been imposed on the University. An investigation in the 1990’s led to probation and other sanctions, including a ban on post season play in 1993 after a finding that the school engaged in recruiting violations.
But with the support of his higher ups, the athletic director and chancellor, Boeheim kept right on coaching, and violating NCAA rules and regulations. Even after the latest sanctions, there’s no indication that Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud has any intention of terminating Boeheim. In fact, Syverud was defiant in his defense of Boeheim following the NCAA’s report. And even if Syracuse jettisoned Boeheim, his successor is likely to continue with the illegal practices that have been imbedded for decades. It’s not only the culture at Syracuse, but many, if not most, other schools that engage in big time athletics.
The situations at Syracuse, UT and so many other institutions could not exist if presidents did not support and defend their rogue athletic departments and the employees who have violated NCAA and University rules. Where is the incentive to change if your boss countenances your unlawful actions?
The University of North Carolina, which is currently under investigation by the NCAA, may end up being the granddaddy of all academic scandals. Over the course of almost two decades thousands of athletes were given credit for courses they did not complete while professors were paid for classes they did not teach. Students didn’t attend class and never met with a professor. The charade was designed for one purpose: To keep athletes eligible to play sports. Coaches, administrators and academics abdicated their responsibility to provide student-athletes with an education and to prepare them for life after sports. The scandal has brought shame and embarrassment to an institution with a reputation for both quality academics and athletics.
In an effort to become or remain competitive on the field of play, too many schools have lost sight of their primary mission – education. The tail – athletics – too often wags the dog – academics. And that reversal of order is oftentimes endorsed by campus presidents. Until that mindset changes, the NCAA is virtually impotent in stemming the tide of violations that threatens to make a mockery of academia.