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Monday, November 28, 2005

The New York Times and a Golden Goose

The Sports Biz blog posted this about yesterday's front-page NYT article regarding a high school in Miami that purportedly has Hogwarts-like qualities. Go there after failing elsewhere, and, magically, you'll become DI eligible. The post links the NYT article, and I suggest that you read the whole thing.

To what lengths do certain schools go to get kids into their programs? Previously, there was the federal prosecution (about which I blogged here) about a booster who allegedly paid a HS coach to steer his kid to his favorite college's program. Now there's this NYT article regarding a certain high school in Miami that allegedly has turned itself into an eligibility mill. What will be next? And why is winning in college football so important in the scheme of things?

I've asked the latter question before, and have been told in comments to this blog that I just don't understand the southern mentality regarding college football. A friend, a midwesterner who grew up in a college town, told me about the good will entire communities attach to their favorite universities' teams. I grew up and live in a metropolitan area where the focus is much more on professional football than college, but isn't there something about college that is supposed to be different? Such as educating our kids first and foremost? Sure, if you're going to field a team, play to win, but there are different costs to winning.

And I would submit some of them are not worth bearing. Such as admitting kids who have no business being in your college.

I also issue a challenge to the NCAA to take a stand on this issue and to audit hard the admissions records of certain programs if they are not doing so already. The NCAA has many rules on compliance that its member insitutions must follow in order to keep student-athletes eligible, but they need to look more closely at the foundation of their member insitutions programs -- are kids being admitted legitimately? I would submit that it's hard to get into many NCAA member institutions than it is to stay in, and I've also posted before on certain disclosures I would like to see NCAA schools make to help ensure that kids get full disclosures about a school's priorities on academics before they sign a letter of intent. But what does it say about the entire process if the system fails these kids by not putting meaningful demands on them and looking out for their welfare at the expense of the day-to-day moods of people who follow their state schools to the ends of the earth and support them with a fervence usually reserved for a religious figure?

Before ardent supporters of NCAA athletic programs jump all over me, please note a few points. My challenge to the NCAA and its members schools isn't meant to indict the NCAA overall for what it does or to indict major college football programs as a whole. I am not questioning the point that most of the kids who play sports at NCAA schools put their academics first and that many coaches try to do the right thing. So let's get that clear so that the wagons don't start circling. Finally, don't attack the NYT here because it's become the whipping boy for many red-state politicos and their supporters as a partisan paper that takes sides against conservative politicians, the Bush administration and, ergo, various elements of American life that red-staters hold so dear, such as college football. Read the article, question both the NYT's coverage and the questions it both asked and didn't ask, and then question the insitutions themselves. If you're a proud alum of any of the institutions named and what's written in the NYT is true, then in this regard the institutions within your alma mater that you hold so dear are doing nothing but cheapening the value of your degree, which presumably you worked hard to earn.

I can't tell now whether this is a brewing scandal a la steroids in baseball or whether it will get buried around the country because there are dirty little secrets that programs don't want to reveal and whether the writers who cover them have enough support from their papers to do some digging as to what's going on. I hope that the sports press corps everywhere will make these inquiries and ask the hard questions. If they do so, they'll distinguish themselves from the baseball media, which either refused to acknowledge or just plain missed the advent of steroids in baseball. My guess is that reporters in Alabama will jump all over Tennessee given the scandal that developed several years ago regarding Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer's allegedly turning in Alabama for recruiting violations. But the question is whether Alabama-based reporters will examine the practices of Alabama and Auburn and whether Tennessee-based reporters will examine the practices of the Volunteers.

I suppose that the passage of time will tell us a lot. Is major college football (and basketball, for that matter) built on a solid foundation or is it virtually impossible to have admitted, and keep eligible, a championship team?


Anonymous Josh Centor said...

Something like this can't get buried. It's appalling and I'm confident that the NCAA will take a hard stance. The discussion has begun on

11:28 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

That's great, Josh. I figured that's what you would say. Have you taken a look at the New York Times' coverage of athletic recruiting at Haverford? Having played at a DIII school, do you think there's too much an emphasis on athletics there? After all, a much greater percentage of the student body at some very good schools play sports? Does that help the academic environment, or hurt it? I'm going to blog on that point, because as much as I like sports, I actually think it could be harmful.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

First I would like to say that the NYT article has nothing to do with politics. This is not a blue state or a red state issue this is a cheating issue. Cheating, in college football, has been taking place since the game started in the 1880's, this is not a new issue. What has changed is the level of sophistication used. I don't want to come off as being confrontational but you are a bit naive in terms of major college athletics. I am assuming that you teach at Princeton due to your posts. The Ivy League decided in the twenties not to follow the trend of giving athletic susidies, i.e. athletic scholarships, because they wanted to be known for their academics. Ivy league universities do not have a problem filling their incoming freshman class because of their academic reputations. State universities do,therefore athletics are a major drawing card for many of the large public universities. With the financial constraints now being placed upon state schools, administrators are having to find ways to increase inrollment to generate revenue. Now having said this I don't think these administrators are aware of the level of cheating that many of these schools employ, they don't want to know. I know for a fact that cheating is not only a football problem it is an every sport problem. I wish I could tell you what I know but I can't.
In terms of this being a southern problem, I choose not to believe this. What I do know is that the reason that the southeast region of the country is always involved in this type of scandle is due to the fact that this is where the majority of D1 football players come from: Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, And Texas. Look on any D1 roster and try not to find a kid from the south. Plus the SEC is continuously being investigated.
Two good references:
College Football:History, Spectacle, Controversy
John Sayle Watterson
John Hopkins Press

King Football: Sport Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies&Magazines, the Weekly & Daily Press
Michael Oriard
The University of North Carolina Press

4:39 PM  

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