Tilting at Windmills

Yet another effort to change college sports -- this one led by faculty members -- got under way Thursday.
January 7, 2005

Yet another effort to fix big-time college sports is gearing up. The Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, which includes representatives of the faculty senates at several dozen universities with football teams in Division I-A, the NCAA's top competitive level, started its first annual meeting Thursday, at Vanderbilt University. The meeting continues today.

The coalition's purpose, as laid out in its working set of proposals, "Academic Integrity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Principles, Rules, and Best Practices," is to get faculty members more involved in overseeing sports programs on their campuses, and to focus their efforts on ensuring that athletes get a meaningful education. Too often in those programs, the group asserts, academic goals are treated as subordinate, and in a variety of ways students are encouraged or enabled to let their athletics commitment undermine their academic work."

Professors are marginalized in athletics decision making on many campuses, and past efforts to get them more involved have largely failed. That's mostly because faculty members troubled by the conduct or scope of their sports programs find little incentive to take them on -- more than a few academics have been marginalized on their campuses after speaking out about sports. (Some have fared even worse -- Murray Sperber is just one who received death threats, for his criticism of Bob Knight at Indiana.)

Like many like-minded groups, the coalition has among its 80-odd proposals some that would get its members laughed out of a room of the powers-that-be in college sports -- like limiting games to weekends and abandoning sports scholarships in favor of aid based on need. Many of its proposals, though, focus on things that by all rights ought to be the purview of the faculty: minimizing special admission of athletes, and more closely monitoring the academic progress of athletes and keeping track of which departments or courses they concentrate in.

Representatives of about 30 faculty senates are at this week's meeting, where they will revise the coalition's proposals for an e-mail vote by its members. While a few of the proposals would be sent to the NCAA as possible rules changes, most are framed as "best practices" for individual colleges to adopt on their own. Don't hold your breath.


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