administrators

Big-time college football needs to be distanced from the academic enterprise (essay)

Football is both the national sport and the national religion (or addiction if you prefer), measured by spectators or viewers, and to a much lesser extent by participants. 

It has achieved these lofty positions for several reasons, not the least because it is played and watched by millions both at the scholastic level (grade school and beyond) and at the professional level where it is a multibillion-dollar business enriching owners, players, sponsors and the television industry. 

The religious analogy requires simple examination. First there is the passionate devotion of fans to their favorite college or professional team, measured by the wearing of team apparel, attendance at games including the purchase of expensive boxes, the proliferation of televised games, donations to booster clubs in the case of college games, and the American attraction to violence. 

And the game is TV-friendly; despite excessive commercials, frequent time-out for injuries and replays, it is a fast-moving sport with plenty of scoring and violence. 

Two caveats apply to the college level. First, most collegiate football programs are not big-time and are an integral part of the institution, rather than standing apart in terms of admission and satisfactory academic progress or in the compensation of coaches. These institutions are not the focus of this writing. 

There are not more than 100 big-time programs (out of 1200 schools conferences, and affiliated organizations in the National Collegiate Athletic Association). Sixty-five of them are in the five major football conferences, and many of the 100 require institutional subsidies in addition to ticket sales, booster contributions and television revenue, which is concentrated in the elite institutions. 

A second caveat is that there are a number of colleges that aspire to be in the elite group but are struggling financially because they do not have the facilities, television revenue or other funding sources of the elite. Rather, they rely increasingly on student tuition dollars or mandatory student activity fees, the uses of which students have little or no say in.

Given the success of the elite college programs and the professional arrangements of the National Football League (NFL), what are the downsides? There are many.

1.  Most recently, there has been renewed attention  to the short- and long-term injuries inherent in this violent sport. The focus has been on concussions, but the long-term effects of injuries go well beyond concussions.

2. Because many players come from economically deprived circumstances they may have had poor academic preparation for college and are prone to the mythology that the best career option for them is football, despite the fact that very few of them will ever play professionally and most of those who do will not get rich and will play only two or three years beyond college.

3. The pressure to keep players eligible to play too often leads toward easy or nonexistent courses (read the latest from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) that do not lead to promising careers outside of football. The message to them is that academics are secondary, only a means to the end. Graduation rates suffer as a result, and many of the athletes have little to show for their playing days.

4. The arms race at the elite college level often requires diverting institutional financial, physical and other resources toward football (or basketball) while shortchanging the academic enterprise.

5. The personal conduct of some participants is nothing short of shocking. There are many cases where domestic violence or sexual assaults by athletes have been perpetrated or alleged and where these behaviors have been overlooked by institutional administrators, with no consequences. The overall effect of these behaviors is not only a blot on the individuals’ reputation but also a serious erosion of academic values or the integrity of institutions  -- sometimes to the point where the status of an institution is more defined by the success of its football program rather than the integrity or the quality of its leadership and its supposed academic heart. When the continued participation of athletes trumps standards of moral conduct, we are all diminished.

6.  The NFL teams have the benefit of college football as a farm league they do not have to subsidize. They are freed from antitrust laws and many franchises have received hefty taxpayer subsidies for facilities and in the form of tax breaks. The NFL offices are granted nonprofit status – meaning they pay no federal taxes – despite the fact that they pay their CEO many millions of dollars.

The above and other problems have been the subject of  reform effort for over a century.  One early effort during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who was particularly concerned with a growing injury problem, led ultimately to the establishment of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as a regulatory body. Like a number of other efforts to regulate industries, the regulated took over the regulatory body and hoped-for reforms did not materialize, a problem which continues to this day.

In the late 1970s and early '80s, I was heavily involved through the American Council on Education in efforts to address some of the aforementioned problems by tightening initial eligibility and satisfactory progress standards for college athletes in all sports. (The views expressed herein do not reflect the position of ACE).

While some progress was achieved, this movement then attempted, given some initial success, to put the college presidents in charge of the NCAA.  But presidents of the elite football institutions have, for the most part, not been successful in curbing academic abuses, behavioral or compensation excesses of coaches or other issues. 

The current NCAA president and his predecessor were university presidents with good intentions in the direction of reform, but both were hobbled by the fact that, despite the structure, college football at the elite level is dominated by alumni and other boosters. 

There have been other efforts at reforms designed to reinforce the student part of what the NCAA refers to as the “student-athlete” model. The most important of these efforts have been the several iterations over many years of the Knight Commission, each version of which has had the participation of distinguished and respected citizens including the presidents of institutions at the elite level of college football. 

Reports have included recommendations that, if adhered to at the institutional level, would have done much to ameliorate the abuses of the system. But the reality is that in as many as 100 institutions, the leaders ( presidents and governing boards) are not in charge in the case of football and men’s basketball; the alumni and boosters run the show and any individual president who tries to assert control is placing his or her job at risk. So most simply back off or become part of the fan base, averting their eyes from seeing (let alone doing anything) to promote or defend what should be the primacy of academic values or personal behavioral standards.

Unilateral disarmament at the institutional level is politically impossible and multilateral disarmament has the same political issues and could easily raise antitrust litigation.

Absent leadership at the institutional level, the leadership for reform has shifted to the journalists and scholars. Joe Nocera of The New York Times is an admirable example of the former, though I believe he places too much of the blame for unaddressed problems on the NCAA rather than its member institutions. 

Gregg Easterbrook has done a fine job in his book The King of Sports in detailing the problems; the same goes for Charles Clotfelter in his book Big-Time sports in American Universities. These and other writers have done invaluable work but they are not the policy makers; that group consists mostly of the adherents and beneficiaries of the system with all of its assets and liabilities

So what to do? Over the past 30 or 40 years, reform efforts have focused on strengthening the role of institutional leaders. It is time to acknowledge that, with exceptions, this has not worked for the reasons noted above. I suggest that we should acknowledge that big-time college football is here to stay -- and the same for football at the professional level, though that is not the main focus of this article. So we should now concentrate on distancing the big-time programs from the academic enterprise, the values of which have been seriously eroded by the visibility and abuses of the football culture. For me, that would take several forms indicated below:

First, let us drop the mythology inherent in the term “student-athlete” and acknowledge that for less than 100 college football programs, it is nearly impossible to be a serious student and a football player, given the extraordinary time and energy demands of the sport. We should not require the athletes in the big-time programs to be students and we should pay them market wages as contracted employees. 

If they wish to be students, there would be no other special academic or financial arrangements. The NCAA has now moved in this direction (using different terminology) with the 65 institutions in the major 5 conferences  gaining autonomy within Division I, which will enable them to set their own rules in important ways.

This will increase costs, meaning that for many of these institutions, there may be fewer funds available for the non-revenue (including women’s sports) programs.  And it will be even more difficult for the “wannabes” to continue to compete at the highest level.

There should be a concerted effort at all levels of collegiate and professional sports to impose personal conduct rules on players and coaches that reflect what should be the case: namely, that participation or employment is a privilege and not a right, and it can be withdrawn in the  case of abusive behavior through the means of personal conduct rules 

Allegations of such behavior should not be judged by the athletic department but by appointees of the college administration. (In the case of the National Football League, the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Basketball, and other professional associations, allegations of misbehavior should not be adjudicated by management or owners but by qualified experts appointed by the associations.)

Such adjudication should be separate from and not dependent on the criminal justice system, in keeping with the above differentiation of rights dependent on the criminal justice system and privileges granted by the owners. I would hope that standards of personal conduct would apply to coaches (and all other employees). Such applicability might begin to address the bad examples set by coaches who rant at officials or athletes, behavior which would not be tolerated by any other employees of the university or team.

These suggestions are unlikely to be adopted in the near term because of the pressures of the commercial model and the fanaticism of the fan base. But even serious consideration and debate would be better than more futile efforts at the collegiate level to get serious about the student-athlete model.

Robert H. Atwell is president emeritus of the American Council on Education.

Editorial Tags: 

Harvard U. president draws criticism from postal workers union

Smart Title: 

First Harvard chief to serve on corporate board faces criticism for decisions of the company.

 

U. of Oklahoma Ends Ban on Band Members' Criticism

The University of Oklahoma has ended a ban by its marching band on members saying anything negative in public about the organization, The Oklahoman reported. Marching band members criticized the ban (anonymously, because of the ban) in newspaper ads in the state. After the ad ran, President David Boren lifted the ban and met with band members to hear their concerns about leadership of the marching band, which many members say has suffered a decline in quality.

 

Ad keywords: 

U. of South Florida Cancels Visit by African Journalists

The University of South Florida has called off an agreement to host 14 journalists from Africa, citing concerns about Ebola, The St. Petersburg Tribune reported. Only two of the journalists were from countries that currently have Ebola outbreaks. The State Department, which runs the exchange program asked the university if it would accept the journalists from elsewhere in Africa and South Florida still declined.

Ad keywords: 

Majority of Colleges Say Their Concussion Plans Keep Students Safe

Despite increasing public scrutiny and a number of lawsuits in recent years, including one against the National Collegiate Athletic Association that ended in a $70 million settlement and stricter injury guidelines, most colleges believe their concussion management plans do a good job of protecting students from head trauma, according to a study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Nearly 99 percent of the 907 institutions who participated in the study said their concussion management plans protected athletes "well" or "very well." At the same time, about 7 percent of individual respondents did not indicate that their institutions had a concussion management plan in place, which is not in line with NCAA guidelines. 

When asked to indicate who has final responsibility for returning athletes to play after a concussion, 83.4 percent said the team doctor, 72.8 percent said the athletic trainer, 31 percent said specialist physician, and 6.8 percent said coach. Nearly 7 percent said the final responsibility fell to the athlete. NCAA guidelines state that return-to-play should be decided by the team physician or athletic trainer.

About 40 percent of respondents said concussion education for coaches needed improvement. "Although a large majority of respondents indicated that their school has a concussion management plan, improvement is needed," the authors wrote. "Increasing scientific evidence supporting the seriousness of concussion underscores the need for the NCAA to use its regulatory capabilities to ensure that athletes’ brains are safe."

Ad keywords: 

Student Defeats President to Win Books for a Year

Scott Dalrymple, the new president of Columbia College in Missouri, decided to mark his inaugural with a challenge to students. They would compete in Madden NFL, the popular sports video game, and if the winning student defeated Dalrymple, he would pay for the students' textbooks for a year. While Dalrymple demonstrated professional class skill at trash-talking, he was defeated in Madden NLF by James Dailey, a nursing student. In the video below, the president is magnanimous in defeat, saying that buying textbooks is a good way to pay a bet.

 

Ad keywords: 

Essay on the nature of change in education and the media

The newspaper and book businesses have been transformed in recent years. But not education. After a 30-year school reform movement, no major urban school district in the country has been successfully turned around. Meanwhile, despite loud and persistent criticism from government, media and families, the cost of college continues to rise faster than inflation and student loan debt is ballooning. So why hasn't education changed?

This nation is making a transition from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy. All of our social institutions — not just education but also government, media, health care and finance — were created for the former. The result is that they work less well than they once did. They seem to be broken and need to be redesigned for a new era.

The redesign is happening in two ways: through repair, attempting to fix the existing institutions; and through replacement, creating new institutions to take the places of the old ones.

Repair has been the primary mode of change in the nonprofit sector — heavily regulated, provider-driven institutions like schools and colleges, where the institution determines what the consumer receives, what students must study in order to earn a diploma. In contrast, replacement is more likely to occur in for-profit and consumer driven institutions, in which the user chooses what products to consume and there is money to be made by entrepreneurs who successfully develop alternatives. The news media and bookstores are excellent examples — businesses in which the user determines what to read, hear and watch.

In media, repair efforts by the major newspapers and magazines were generally too little and too late. The rapid emergence of the internet and cable news spawned an array of popular alternatives or replacements — such as Yahoo!, CNN, and The Huffington Post, as well as many others that failed. Between 1990 and 2012, daily newspaper circulation dropped by more than 30 percent. Perhaps most telling: In 2011 The Huffington Post sold for $315 million. Two years later, The Washington Post was purchased for $250 million and The Boston Globe was acquired for $70 million. Adjusting for inflation, the sale price of the two traditional newspapers, combined, was still less than that of The Huffington Post

In the book business, the independent neighborhood bookstore was largely replaced by megastores like Barnes and Noble and Borders. They were in turn replaced by the online bookstore Amazon.com, which offered major discounts on books and developed a new book format, the e-reader. Today Borders is out of business, Barnes and Noble is reeling, and Amazon has expanded its business to become a major retailer in many fields.

The measure of success in these two industries — news media and bookstores — has been profitability or potential profitability. However, the replacements also share several common characteristics. In comparison with the existing organizations, they are faster, cheaper and more easily accessible. They "have on their shelves" a much larger selection of content and titles, even highly specialized. Because they are digital, they are available any time, any place. They are more consumer-driven than their forebears, allowing users to customize content and, in many cases, to access it without any mediation from the provider. These are the features consumers chose over the existing models. They point to the qualities consumers are coming to expect and demand in all the institutions they deal with.

In this new, increasingly consumer-driven world, educational institutions — which, like government and healthcare, are historically not-for-profit, producer-driven, highly regulated, and repair-oriented — have been the most resistant to change and the slowest to act.

However, history teaches us that no major social institution can escape adaptation. When the United States made the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society, the same process of repair and replace occurred. The nation became impatient with those institutions that refused to modernize.

Medical schools were an excellent example. Dissatisfaction with the quality of doctors and their preparation mounted until early in the 20th century when states and the American Medical Association responded by raising and modernizing standards. Poor medical schools were closed. Investments were made by philanthropy and states in enhancing strong schools and creating new ones.

This is what can be expected in education. Dissatisfaction and anger over the current state of affairs is growing. Confidence in the capacity of the existing schools to improve is declining. There is a generational divide on how to respond. Older adults, who remember when schools worked better than they do today, tend to favor continuing to repair them. They are more likely to believe that the institutions they grew up with can be restored. In contrast, younger adults, for whom the schools have always seemed broken, are more likely to embrace replacement.

Younger adults are the future — as consumers of schooling, leaders of schools and educational policy makers. If the schools prove unable to repair themselves, they are likely to be impatient and demand replacement. This suggests that the schools still have the opportunity to choose repair, but the clock is ticking.

There is another caveat here. Although the existing institutions have not changed as quickly as they need to, they also embody features that the nation cannot afford to lose but are unlikely to be embraced by replacements because they are unprofitable. Two examples would be basic research, which is far more expensive and risky than other forms of research, and low-volume, high-cost doctoral programs such as physics. The nation desperately needs these functions, and our future is dependent upon doing them well.

The process of making all these nuanced and necessary changes can be accelerated by applying the interventions that transformed mass media. Foundations and other philanthropists have the capacity to spawn replacements which are more accessible, effective, cheaper and capable of being customized. Venture capital can invest in potentially profitable versions of not-for-profits that generate revenue by cutting costs and growing their consumer base. States can eliminate regulations that bar quality innovation and protect schools from making needed changes.

Both kinds of change are already occurring in education today. The result is increased competition and growing pressure on existing institutions to transform themselves. In higher education, the most recent example has been the rise of MOOCs — massive open online courses, which may be no more than a fad, but are causing existing universities to rethink their digital futures and launching a number of online education businesses.

Still, piecemeal changes and a focus on the flavor du jour will not serve education well in the long run. The time is now to consider carefully how all our educational institutions need to change, what must be preserved and what must be updated, to choose what to repair and what to replace, and to invest our time, energy, resources, and social capital accordingly.

Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Editorial Tags: 

New presidents or provosts: Evangel LA Valley MATC Mid Michigan Montreat Morehead Oakland Stillman Winnipeg

Smart Title: 
Montreat College is pleased to announce the appointment of Paul J. Maurer - See more at: http://www.montreat.edu/news/2014/06/montreat-college-names-paul-j-maure...

Faculty Vote of No Confidence at Walla Walla

Professors in the arts and sciences at Walla Walla Community College have voted no confidence in President Steven VanAusdle, criticizing what they say is a lack of support for non-vocational programs and a poor administrative style, The Union-Bulletin reported. After the vote, the board of the college issued a strong statement of support for the president.

 

Ad keywords: 

Education Department publishes final rules on campus crime reporting

Smart Title: 

New rules from the Department of Education will require colleges to provide crime statistics on dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, as well as on reported crimes that were determined to be unfounded.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - administrators
Back to Top