The current institutional structure of intercollegiate athletics is attempting to maximize educational quality and athletic excellence simultaneously. Each of which will inevitably impinge on one another. Universities claim that their athletes are amateurs who are attending college for academic achievement and play sports in their free time. This is an impossible task for anybody. Higher education has entered the arena of big business with its athletic programs and with it many problems have emerged for coaches, athletes, and the athletic system itself. There is systematic corruption. Exploitation and hypocrisy are givens in college athletics. Athletic personnel are mistakenly given the responsibility for academic integrity of student athletes. With this responsibility emerges at best indifference and at worst complicate the corruption in college athletics. There is a huge demand for reform. The critics argue the issue of amateurism versus professionalism in college athletics. They also disagree on the means in which reform should be instigated. Many look towards the government for answers while the NCAA would like to regulate itself. There needs to be resolution somewhere because the integrity of sports is in jeopardy.
College athletes are expected to combine their athletic dreams with academic endeavors. Many athletes use college as a stepping-stone into professional leagues. College is simply a means to their athletic career. Charles Reed, a chancellor for Florida State, feels that the purpose for education is being lost to these individuals. Universities primary existence is due to an academic mission, not athletic entertainment. However, athletes are expected to practice 30 hours a week, attend at the minimum 12 hours of class, do homework, study for exams, travel to out of town games, and have some kind of a social life. To meet the needs of athletes, universities have lowered their academic standards and programs. Athletes are often clustered into classes that they have the best chance of passing. The goal of striving towards academic integrity has shifted from the best education to the easiest one. Raymie McKerrow, a professor, seems to think this is not all negative. She says that sports are an educational entity in their own right. Sports teach, “enduring values of challenge and response, teamwork, discipline, and perseverance (McKerrow, 63).
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However, sports aren’t enough to prepare these athletes for their future. It should be noted that the graduation rate for athletes across the nation is not promising. Scholarships become worthless promises if they do not result in a certificate. According to Louis Barbash, a television producer, 3 out of 10 basketball players graduate, while 4 out of 10 football players graduate. Many athletes emerge from college illiterate, without a degree, and without a professional athletic career. The system is cheating these individuals. It is a known fact that 44% of all African Americans in collegiate sports expect to play professionally. A college athlete has a better chance of becoming an astronaut than they do playing professionally. One athlete out of 10,000 will ever play professionally.
Athletes are dominated, managed and controlled. They do not receive an education or wage commensurate with their contribution to economic returns. They are making millions for universities while receiving nothing. Louis Barbash, a writer and producer, feels that the NCAA has failed athletes terribly. They have two options: to professionalize sports or to meet the Ivy League ideal (equal standards and expectations for athletes and nonathletes).
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If they choose to professionalize college sports, then each team acts as a minor league. The average salary has been proposed around 17,000 dollars. Athletes can also take classes if they want with no specific time limit for completion. This act would have to be implemented by NCAA or legislation.
The NCAA feels confident that it can reform itself. It has increased the required GPA for freshman to enter university. They have cut finances across the board. This includes a 10% reduction in grants, a cut in coaching staff, a cut in program budgets, and a requirement for institutions to be certified every five years. This certification requires self-examination of its programs under peer review that looks at academic and fiscal integrity, and a commitment to equity. Many feel the NCAA cannot regulate itself, despite its efforts. There is too much big business and corruption within its system.
Tom McMillen, member of Knight Commission, feels that passing new legislation may be the key. It would include paying players, forcing committee presidents to play a larger role, and instilling an antitrust act. This would allow colleges to be tax-free for five years from broadcasting venues. However, they must implement a president of broadcasting to oversee and control the media. Revenues from athletic events would also be distributed based on academic performance, successful budget cuts, and compliance with gender equity laws. He is quick to mention that the success of legislation is in the hands of players, coaches, and the NCAA.
The reform attempts look good on paper, but according to research they are falling extremely short. The NCAA is preserving the old system, making and enforcing rules to protect the interests of universities. The NCAA devotes 1% of its budget to enforce rules and regulations. Big business has won out with the primary goal of making money. Money is the mask for colleges striving to win. It is not about the sport or the enrichment of athletes, it is about generating millions for institutions. Economist Andrew Zimbalist feels that intercollegiate athletics is a unique industry. No other industry in the US manages to pay its principal producers zero salary. Shannon Brownlee and Louis Barbash stress this point in their essays supporting professional zing college athletics. Athletes make nothing, but colleges make a bundle. The major conferences have a 900million contract with ABC to televise the football bowl games. Each team playing in the series will receive 170million dollars. The NCAA also signed a 6 million dollar deal giving CBS the rights to televise the basketball championships. The amateur nature of intercollegiate athletics allows for money earned from television, licensing, contributions and college merchandise to be tax-free. The NCAA has good reason not to want to professionalize sports and it is in the form, of dollar bills.
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Dr. Eitzen agrees with the need for reform and the inability of NCAA to produce it. He proposes that athletes should receive scholarship money, unlimited time to finish his/her degree plan, paid vacations and endorsements from advertisers. They should also be entitled to full four-year scholarships. The schedule of athletic programs will be changed as well. Basketball will start in the spring and spring training will be eliminated for football. Coaches will also be held accountable for the number of athletes that graduate. It is essential that college sports are reformed and these rules should be implemented a soon as possible. This view is compatible with the idea that sports and academia can coexist. They will just do so in a manner unfamiliar to us.
Research from a college Sports and Society class found that simply implementing one rule would take care of the problem facing college athletics. It is recommended that division 1 athletes do not have to attend school, while Division 111 remains unchanged, i.e. with no scholarship availabilities. This is essentially professionalizing college athletics in Division 1 schools. College teams would become a simple investment like apartment buildings, real estate, ECT. The members would not have to attend class or carry a specific grade point average. This is the answer to bringing academic integrity back to schools. Colleges would no longer be lowering their standards for athletes. Unprepared and unmotivated athletes are no longer in classrooms. Coaches aren’t wasting time calling faculty and they aren’t’ tempted to help their athletes stay eligible. This will not decrease the number of students getting educated. Those that want an education can do so, but it isn’t required. The acts of corruption would cease without the problems that remaining eligible brings. This proposal is very similar to that of Dr. Eitzen. It is also against the view that was proposed by Raymie McKerrow that stressed the problem in sports results from reflections of the values of society. Many would argue problems with values in society are a direct result of the media attention that sports receive.
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Sports reform will not happen overnight. It will be a continuous process that will be very much like a road with no end. I think that professionalizing sports is the ultimate answer. It prevents a disruption in the academic system. It also gives athletes a chance to start their careers right out of high school. The solution does not stop here. Reform needs to trickle down to high schools and junior high. The reason athletes are having such a hard time in college also stems from the fact that they aren’t prepared. I had the number one running back in the state graduate with me from high school, but he did not attend college. He couldn’t read or write. Even at the high school level teachers and coaches were shuffling him along to keep him eligible. This cannot be allowed. Teachers must be held accountable. Shannon Brownlee also recognizes the failure of middle and high schools.
I agree with Tom McMillen that the NCAA cannot regulate itself. It has been trying for years, but nothing ever seems to truly change. The NCAA has proposed strong bills such as Proposition 8 and then passed a weaker version. They passed regulations that limit summer play for football and then schedule a Pigskin Classic for August. They say that they are in favor of academia, but slate games across the country in the middle of the school week. I feel that they are hypocritical in their actions and become part of the problem.
There is very little research on actual reform programs. Those that have been implemented are on paper only. This is not a new idea, but the amount of money and popularity generated by this enterprise has overshadowed any progress. The only test for current reforms lies in the future. Only time can tell what that will hold.
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