By MIchael Taylor • Posted 12:45 AM EST
Abraham Lincoln hangs out in the small knoll in front of the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University. Picture from aRussian website. Springtime in Syracuse, after a long cold, wet crappy winter, is like heaven.
Editor's Note: The top of the incoming freshman class at Syracuse University are offered the chance to compete in a scholarship competition run by William Coplin, Professor of Public Affairs at the world-renowned Maxwell School. Coplin picks a topic, and students submit essays, then argue it in front of their peers. Each activity is scored, and the top 25 students earn scholarship cash.
The following essay by Michael Taylor, class of 1993, won one of the top three prizes in 1989. In 1990, I wrote ino the Maxwell scholarship competition about the chances of the EPA becoming a cabinet-level post. My essay hardly compares to this piece by my friend Michael Taylor, now a freelance photographer for Lonely Planet, written when he was 18.
Property of Athletic Department.
The Dead End for College Athletes and How to Give Them an Honest Education
By Michael Taylor
Citizenship Education Conference
Public Policies to Improve the Quality of Life for the Young
April 22, 1989
"College sports have been developed from games played by boys for pleasure into systematic contests for the glory and, too often, the financial profit of the college." (Robert Sullivan, "Blast from the Past," Sports Illustrated, June 15, 1987, p. 13).
These words, written in 1929, ring all the more true today, sixty years later, except that now the "profit" of the college comes fully at the expense of the student. Because of the mad emphasis on winning for the money it brings, student-athletes are being exploited by manipulative recruiters, and deprived of an education by the athletic departments themselves. Since few of these student athletes earn degrees, and less than 1% of all college athletes go on to play professionally, that leaves the other 99% searching for jobs in the "real" world, "brandishing only their varsity letters, not diplomas." (Steve Robinson, "Continuing Ed for Jocks," Sports Illustrated, June 6, 1988, p. 120).
For the sake of the students, it is time to put an end to this chaos in college sports. Colleges must regain control of their increasingly unwieldy athletic programs and re-establish the fact that the goal of an educational institution, first and foremost, is to educate, not to fill stadiums or turn out No. 1 draft picks. Therefore, I have formulated a major plan, which, if put into effect, could do just this. My plan is composed of several parts, but its overall goal is twofold: to decrease the emphasis on money in college athletics and to decrease the emphasis given to those very sports programs in higher education.
The problem with college sports, put simply, is that student-athletes are not getting educated. They are producing over $1 billion a year for collegiate athletics. (Mark Ivey, "Mr. Clean Comes to the NCAA," Business Week, Sept. 7, 1987, p.51). But the colleges, on the other hand, are producing a graduation rate of less than half in Division I schools, in the case of basketball players, a tragic 28% rate. (NBA Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, April 4, 1989).
And of the nearly 20,000 young men playing college basketball, only about 40 will make it to the NBA each year, a ratio of 500:1. (Ted Gup, "Foul!", Time magazine, April 3, 1989, p.55).
This shockingly one-sided deal means that once the athlete's eligibility runs out in four or five years, he is faced with the dim prospect of finding a job without a degree, at a time when a bachelor's degree is a virtual necessity for most jobs.
The cause of all this madness is that college athletics, originally created to give hard-working young students a chance to enjoy themselves while exercising and learning some discipline and sportsmanship, now revolve around making money and winning at any cost. The commercialism of college sports has created a vicious circle in which winning is needed to make money, and money is necessary to win. And so, as Robert Hutchins said when he presided over the University of Chicago fifty years ago, "to be successful, one must cheat." (Art Spander, "Term 'Student-Athlete' Usually A Misnomer," The Sporting News, Dec. 5, 1988, p.5).
The cheating occurs when recruiters use any means possible to "reel in" a top-notch player--bribes of cash, cars, and jewelry, empty promises of tutors and extra study time, (Gup, p.55) and even threats, as is the case with Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom, currently standing trial. (Ed. Note: Walters was convicted of fraud and racketeering after signing college players to professional teams before their eligibility expired in April of 1988).
And the cheating occurs when athletic directors also use any means to keep players on the team--altering test scores, hiring "note-takers" for them because they don't have time to attend classes, and scheduling such grueling courses as billiards, water color painting and recreational leisure. (Gup., p.55). In the end, it is the athletes who are being cheated--out of their futures.
What can be done? The dilemma of how to regain control of powerful athletic programs and begin educating, honestly educating, student-athletes once again is a problem far too involved, too difficult, to be solved by a single one-dimensional policy, such as eliminating athletic scholarships altogether (virtually impossible with the place college sports have in our society today) or paying athletes (which would only corrupt college sports and higher education even more).
Instead, much action must be taken in the form of a unified, mandatory plan with several parts, each aimed at changing a specific part of the system, remedying a specific aspect of the problem. The main goal of this policy, though, would to effect two results: 1) a decrease in the emphasis placed on college athletics in general, in order to reestablish sports as simply an extracurricular activity at a learning institution, secondary to education. These two changes, would, in turn, lead to a much improved quality of education for the student-athlete, guaranteeing him a future.
With the education of our young men and women, the future of our very nation at stake, it is time for the federal government to get involved and take direct action in changing the structure of college athletics. It is obvious the NCAA has been reduced to little more than a bungling bureaucracy, incapable of handling the problems it now faces. And so, in a bill proposed by a Congressman, the following federal legislation would be made in order to bring about the two overall goals of my plan.
First, revenues from television rights, fees and the like would be shared among all teams participating in each division, with distributions proportional to enrollment at each school. By eliminating financial incentives for winning (each team in this year's (1988) Final Four received $1.2 million, Gup., p.55), the pressures to "win at any cost" would be greatly reduced and most schools with major programs would benefit from reduced expenses and financial stability.
To further reduce the "money craze," the current NCAA rules on expenditure controls must be better enforced. By limiting sizes of team rosters and coaching staffs, and the number of athletic scholarships allowed, there would be an equalizing effect which would enhance the effectiveness of revenue-sharing. (John C. Weistart, "The Role of Faculty in College Sports Reform," Education Digest, February 1988, pp. 57-58).
Finally, coaches should be paid on the same scale as faculty members and be made eligible for tenure. (Gup, p. 60). By separating coaches' salaries and job stability from their winning percentages, they would no longer need to cheat, thereby harming the athletes, in order to remain employed.
Second, all freshman on athletic scholarships would be ineligible to practice or play, guaranteeing them at least one year to assimilate themselves into the university community as normal, full-time students. Athletic dormitories would be done away with, since they only emphasize the difference between a student and an athlete by isolating players from the rest of the university.
Colleges would also be required to have the same entrance and academic standards for athletes as for other students. Because of this, practice time, as much as 25-30 hours a week at some colleges, would have to be reduced, kept under a 15 hour weekly limit. In this way, athletes would again be students first and foremost.
Finally, as already proposed by Senator Bill Bradley, all schools would be required to disclose their student-athletes' graduation rates to any recruits considering enrollment. I found it is nearly impossible to get these graduation statistics, even after contacting NCAA headquarters in Kansas, and the institutions themselves, such as the University of Delaware and Oklahoma State University.
Do you honestly think that many student-athletes would be registering at Memphis State if they knew that not one black on the basketball team graduated in the ten years from 1976 to 1986? (NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, April 4, 1989).
Thought a major portion of this policy is focused on money, and changing the financial situation in college sports, very little spending is actually required to implement it. The only money needed would be the funds used to enforce, through a government task force, the various laws and changes legislated by policy. These funds, in the general range of $10 million, would be provided to the task force by the Department of Education, and under the direction of the Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.
Overall, the chances of this policy being implemented in its entirety are fairly slim. This is because the media and the athletic departments of some major universities, each extremely powerful groups, would vehemently oppose most measures in the policy, for obvious reasons, mainly financial ones. However, supporting the plan would be educators, who want to recover the integrity of their institutions, and more importantly, a majority of the public (besides some of the fans), who have already pressured the government to improve education in America. If some concessions were made, which is probably inevitable, chances would be even greater for this policy to be put into effect.
To evaluate the effectiveness of my policy, a few relevant statistics could be used to assess whether or not the expected benefits, or possible consequences, have actually come about. First, have any legitimate schools (not the likes of Memphis States University) suffered serious financial problems or violent student protests as a result of this policy? And has this policy inadvertently put an end to college athletics altogether?
As for benefits, are recruiting violations and athletic program spending down? Also, college students, and, more importantly, the athletes themselves, could be surveyed to see if athletes have become better assimilated into university communities--as students. And above all, are graduation rates up? Are students-athletes finally getting the educations they deserve, and making worthwhile contributions to society?