NCAA bans SMU basketball from postseason, suspends coach for 9 games

New penalties over academic fraud are only the most recent in Southern Methodist's history of breaking NCAA rules. Among the guilty: the university's renowned basketball coach, and a former official responsible for compliance with the rules.


Let Penn State play football, but without its fans (essay)

In the spring of 2009 the Italian football (soccer) club Juventus – as wealthy and powerful a club as exists in Europe – was forced to play a game with no fans in attendance because the crowd at a game had been racially abusive to another team’s player.

During the 2011-2012 Dutch soccer season, AFC Ajax – one of the two dominant clubs in that nation’s athletic scene – played a match in an empty stadium after a fan ran onto the field and attacked a visiting team player.

This spring, the Italian top-level football club Genoa was required to play its final two home games “behind closed doors” because of crowd violence at a previous match.

Latest Penn State Developments
With NCAA poised to announce
penalties against the university
Monday, campus officials take
Joe Paterno's statue outside
the football stadium.

All around the world, the penalty for toxic sport culture is the same: teams, rich teams, poor teams, powerful teams, unknown teams, are required to play games in silent, empty stadia, often without television as a local option, denied income and in-house support, while the fans hopefully learn – the hard way – that there are things more important than athletics.

Now, we, in American higher education, have a good reason to learn from the planet we share but hardly ever actually interact with as equals. When the culture of sport is the issue, attack the culture of the sport by cutting off its oxygen supply: remove the fans from the scene of their crimes.

There is no doubt that the “culture of reverence” (the words of the Freeh report) for Penn State football created the conditions in which the cover up of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes could not only occur, but go on for 14 years. There is no doubt that the culture of football worship – and Joe Paterno worship – in State College, Pa., allowed decades of crimes to occur in silence: the sexual harassment and discrimination by the university’s former women’s basketball coach Rene Portland for one, the many reported but unprosecuted crimes by Nittany Lions football players from 2002 to 2008 exposed by ESPN for another.

And there is little doubt that it is a culture unchallenged at Pennsylvania State University, which, since the scandal broke eight months ago, has put no sanctions on its football program, has crowed about continued donations, has sent the team off to a bowl game, and has, frighteningly, suggested as its one action, that the showers and locker room at the Lasch Football Building be renovated lest Penn State football players "feel uncomfortable."

Allie Grasgreen’s article last week on Inside Higher Ed, Must Penn State Cleanse?, dealt with the need for a “grand gesture,” such as shutting down the football program for one or more seasons. “I can’t see any other action that shows that great intersection of wanting to do better -- introspection, remorse, pain, leadership, humanity, empathy -- in its real sense,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Sport and Society program. “If they’re hoping for football to return to prominence, wouldn’t they want it also under a cleansed brand?”

“The board has an imperative to take strong, demonstrable action to both rein in and possibly even punish the football program itself, as it would other renegade programs within the institution,” the article quote former University of Michigan president James J. Duderstadt as writing.  But Grasgreen also pointed out the many “too big to fail” excuses for why Penn State football must march on, almost all of which are related to the financial consequences of broken contracts or the perception that innocent athletes are being punished.

So, if march on the Nittany Lions must, let them march on in silence behind the padlocked gates of Beaver Stadium for the next four years, or long enough to break, conclusively, that culture of reverence. Let there be no “Paternovilles” (by any name), let there be no more embarrassing moments of faux piety as we witnessed during the Nebraska-Penn State game last autumn. Allow the players to play, insist that Penn State pay its contractual commitments, allow the Big Ten to have its right number of games televised everywhere but the State of Pennsylvania, but send an unmistakable message that Penn State exists for some reason other than to provide Saturday afternoon entertainment eight days a year.

Throughout my watch of Penn State since the Sandusky arrest I have been privileged to be in communication with a very important member of the Penn State community, Matt Bodenschatz, a “non-traditional” student who immediately began challenging his university’s response to the scandal in November of last year. “I have something unpopular to say,” Bodenschatz wrote bravely on November 13, “I see everywhere -- in your editorials on your social media pages, in your subversively-written chalk messages printed all over campus -- your desperate insistence that ‘We are still Penn State.’ And each of these that I come upon creates in me a feeling of isolating sadness and emptiness. It reinforces in me what I have long felt – that the realities of victims and the realities of observers are worlds apart.”

Then he adds, “Because my community -- the survivor community, the victim community -- doesn’t get to boast of being unchanged.”

Since that day I have watched Bodenschatz work – through his group Voices4Victims– to educate his peers, his classmates, his community, his university, even his alumni association on the horrific symbolism of Penn State “moving on,” “getting back to normal.”

For if Penn State is allowed to casually return to “normal” this September, its Saturdays filled with crowds tailgating and cheering, the band playing, the party atmosphere, neither Bodenschatz nor any other victim within the Penn State community gets a true chance to heal. “It’s easy to get over this,” we’ll be saying. “See, a few months and it’s all in the past.” To allow that to happen would be a violation of all that it truly means to be an educational institution.

In a comment on Grasgreen’s article, Sanford Thatcher, the distinguished former director of the Penn State University Press, insists that, “There was no attempt by anyone in athletics to pull its programs away from "core values" of the university and embrace a "commercial culture" instead.” And he asks, incredibly, “Exactly what "university mission" was abandoned in favor of football?”

It is for Mr. Thatcher, and the students of Penn State, that this teachable moment must be embraced. We must teach all that the mission of any university, the mission of any educational institution, the mission of any educated person, includes the obligation to serve and protect society – especially society’s most vulnerable. That our mission includes the obligation to behave honestly and ethically, and that it includes an obligation to demonstrate, and to teach, humane and appropriate behavior.

The teaching of this cannot take place in the course of business as usual in State College. That gap Bodenschatz speaks of, between the realities of the victims and the realities of the observers, is clearly too vast to be bridged five days a week if on day six we argue, as loudly as possible, the opposite.

We can’t shut down Penn State football? Fine. Let them play. But let them play in silence while the business of education goes on.

Ira Socol is a research and teaching assistant at Michigan State University.

Neumann's major NCAA violation: grants for Canadians


Neumann University's payments to Canadian athletes land it two years of NCAA probation.


NCAA Bars Ohio State From Postseason for Football Violations

Highly publicized violations involving improper payments to football players and ex-coach's unethical conduct bring serious NCAA penalties.


Toughen NCAA Standards for Freshmen

Facing allegations of widespread academic scandal in his football program in August 2010, Chancellor Holden Thorp of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill immediately launched an investigation of the university’s academic support system for athletes. The charges, involving academic work provided to football players by a tutor under the employ of the head football coach, follow similar findings of institutional involvement in academic dishonesty of 61 athletes at Florida State University in 2008. In January 2010, Georgia Southern University was placed on two years of probation for academic fraud violations that included a men's basketball coach posing as a player and taking his examination.

This prompted Paul Dee, chairman of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, former athletics director and a sports-law professor at the University of Miami, to express his concern about the growing number of academic fraud cases. Cases of academic dishonesty and fraud in intercollegiate athletics have become all too familiar, as a related article on Inside Higher Ed today underscores. The NCAA’s stance is that these are unrelated and isolated incidences of impropriety and that its enforcement staff will root out the misconduct and punish the perpetrators.

A more critical analysis suggests that the recent patterns of serious institutional involvement in academic fraud may be related to predictable consequences of changes in the 2003 NCAA initial eligibility legislation that certify woefully underprepared athletes as qualified to compete in the college classroom.

This NCAA legislation is designed in such a way that an athlete can score very low on a standardized test, but, with a corresponding high school grade point average, can still qualify for NCAA practice, competition, and athletic-related financial aid at NCAA Division I institutions. The NCAA abandoned a minimum test score requirement altogether, so it is theoretically possible to qualify with no correct answers on the SAT or ACT. Because some colleges and universities have let the NCAA’s eligibility standards determine their own standards for admission, this has created a virtual open-admissions floodgate for academically deficient athletes to selective institutions.

Once enrolled, these athletes are introduced to elaborate academic support systems in multimillion-dollar facilities, staffed by a fleet of talented academic advisers, tutors and learning specialists assigned to ensure their eligibility, retention and collegiate survival. At academically and athletically competitive institutions, high-risk special admissions ventures yield high gains on the field or court coupled with the increasing temptation and risk of academic scandal. It should be no surprise that academically underprepared athletes who face their most intimidating experiences in the classroom sometimes choose academic dishonesty rather than face athletic ineligibility. Of late, zealous academic support professionals and faculty have been found to be collaborating in acts of academic dishonesty for the sake of maintaining athletes’ eligibility.

Since the introduction of the NCAA academic reform legislation of 2003, big-time institutions have devoted considerable resources to the eligibility and retention of athletes. A new cottage industry of academic support professionals has emerged on our campuses from this weakened initial eligibility qualification standard. Cadres of resourceful learning specialists, sometimes known as academic coaches or academic mentors, are now hired by athletic departments to manage the academic performance and progress of the increasing number of high-risk student athletes. Underprepared athletes with low test scores qualify for NCAA competition and college admissions by virtue of often-inflated high school grade point averages.

Although the levels of professional training and the professional duties of learning specialists vary, most learning specialists are dedicated to academic skill remediation for students. They operate under stressful conditions as they work with athletes with significant academic deficiencies and time constraints. These are athletes admitted to the university under the pretense that they have the necessary skills to be successful. Learning specialists who work with athletes who are admitted as NCAA qualifiers often discover that those with very low standardized test scores also suffer from severe reading deficiencies. Institutions with financial resources develop sophisticated academic support strategies to remediate these athletes as quickly as possible through mandatory remedial reading sessions with specialists, while all colleges focus on teaching academic survival skills, such as sitting in the front of class, attending regularly, developing relationships with faculty, and improving note-taking, test-taking, and time management skills.

The obstacles facing athletic department learning and reading specialists are considerable, and success is frequently dependent upon the level of players’ academic deficiency, their desire to achieve, and the time restrictions inherent in competitive intercollegiate athletics. All the while, athletic department academic advisers often search for less demanding and less reading-dependent coursework for their most at-risk athletes. Athletic department hired tutors work furiously to cram specific course factoids into overstressed athletes who are outmatched in the classroom competition.

There have been enormous changes in the complexities, devotion of financial resources, and the directions of academic support services since 2003. Unfortunately, the changes have evolved from academic enhancement and support of capable athletes to a focus on remediation of academic learning skills for an increasing number of athletes who are deficient in basic skills and lack academic orientation.

Underperforming athletes often select majors by default to maintain their eligibility. Some institutions create general studies and other multidisciplinary curriculums that permit large amounts of elective credits with little discernible educational value or career preparation. Other institutions funnel high-risk athletes into majors with the lowest entrance standards for lack of alternative. Incidents of institutional academic fraud appear to rise with the pressures and stress upon academic support personnel to maintain talented athletes in competition.

What are the costs to our institutional integrity and to the education and welfare of our at-risk student-athlete population? So long as athletes who struggle to read college textbooks meet minimum NCAA admissions standards and are admitted to and maintained in our institutions, there is no justification. It is naïve to believe that great athletes who meet minimum NCAA standards but are academically marginal will be denied admissions to the institution of their choice, when the university has so much to gain by having successful athletic teams.

The NCAA argues that its role is to set minimum standards for all institutions, whether they are selective or not, and that it is the universities’ prerogative to admit these students. Association officials argue that it is the institutions’ responsibility to admit students who are capable of performing at their campus.

Yet the minimum requirements established for initial eligibility should provide the baseline for the minimum academic learning skills students must possess to succeed in college. Faculty should trust their institutions to select prospective athletes who enroll with the minimum competencies for their campuses. However, most universities accept the NCAA’s minimum standards as their baseline criteria, and by doing so accept those students promoted by their coaches solely for their athletic talent. Following admissions committee rejections of promising athletes, appeals are typically made to the university president and routinely overturned.

A recent controversy at Colorado State University arose when a rejection of eight athletes on the basis of academic disqualification led to their admissions denial being overruled by President Tony Frank. Since December, 2010, their old admissions method of assigning numerical scores was replaced with a more “holistic” admissions approach, presumably to include more credit for athletic prowess.

This situation has been exacerbated by another recent trend in football and men’s basketball, in which head coaches offer talented high school freshmen and sophomores athletic scholarships well in advance of their taking standardized tests or undergoing institutional evaluation of their academic potential. The once-formal recruiting weekends hosted by athletic programs for prospective student-athletes pondering schools and athletic programs are becoming mere formalities for those students who have already committed their services.

To rely on college presidents, athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives or other institutional administrators to routinely and unilaterally deny predictably unsuccessful high-risk but already committed athletes against the wishes of celebrity coaches is utter fantasy. As long as coaches are paid extraordinary salaries for winning seasons, they will continue to recruit athletes primarily for athletic talent and rely on their academic support systems, learning specialists, and academic mentors to keep them eligible, retained in good academic standing, and even graduated.

I urge Mark Emmert, the new NCAA president, to consider the consequences of the association’s current initial eligibility standard. There is a need for a new standard that improves the likelihood of actual advanced learning, rather than merely eligibility and retention. Setting a minimum standardized test score that ensures reading comprehension and academic skill levels appropriate for college is essential.

An even better alternative may be to seek measurements of essential academic skills for college preparedness other than standardized test scores and incorporate them into initial eligibility standards. These measurements exist, such as the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT4), and offer the promise of better-prepared athletes.

Games with athletically and academically capable athletes will continue to draw throngs of fans who will watch the mass spectacle of intercollegiate athletics. Most importantly, athletes may have a better chance for a meaningful education with the promise of satisfying careers outside of athletics. What may also be reduced is the trend of inexcusable academic scandals with institutional collusion humiliating our universities.

Gerald S. Gurney
Author's email: 

Gerald S. Gurney is president of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics, and senior associate athletic director for academics and student life and assistant professor in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Fox in the Henhouse at Arizona St.

NCAA puts sports program on probation for violations committed by official charged with keeping the rules.

Administrators Break NCAA Rules at South Carolina

Wrongdoing by an academic dean and a former senior sports official land university on NCAA probation.

Black Eye for the Buckeyes

NCAA puts Ohio State on three years’ probation and penalizes former basketball coaches for misconduct.

Ringing Up Recruits Gets Fresno Rung Up

NCAA punishes men's basketball program for former coaches' excessive telephone calls to would-be players.

Second Chance for a Fallen Coach

Morgan State hires Todd Bozeman, who served an 8-year NCAA penalty.


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