Tag Archives: NCAA

When Points Destroy The Game

In 1956 my Jamaica high school basketball
team played Far Rockaway, a league rival. At the end of the first quarter I had
19 points and our team was ahead by twenty. The result of the game was already
determined. I felt confident of breaking the school scoring record and perhaps
the city record as well, but to my dismay the coach took me out of the game. I
was furious. Yet in retrospect, he was right.

Had I broken the school record, it would have
come at the expense of a marginal team. Moreover, it would have embarrassed the
other players. My coach understood what I did not.

Now we hear the story of Grinnell College
sophomore guard named Jack Taylor who scored 138 points in a recent game
against First Baptist Bible College. While this point total obliterated the
college record and even pro stars like LeBron James are eager to see the video
tape, I find this story depressing. Why didn’t Grinnell’s coach, David Arsenault
bench his star player who took 108 shots – missing 56 – in a game won by 75 points?

The once decent standard of not embarrassing
a rival has been interred along with giving bench-warmers a chance to play in a
one sided victory. “Kicking” an opponent when he is down was something college
athletes were once told to avoid. That, of course, was yesteryear when
competition counted and records were set that had real meaning.

As I see it, there isn’t anything reasonable
about one player taking 108 shots in a game whose outcome was not in question.
Whatever happened to sportsmanship in college sports? Instead of applauding
this performance as television hosts have, it should be criticized. Imagine
“pressing” all game in a 75 point margin of victory.

During college basketball and football games,
there is the ritualistic suggestion by the NCAA that athletics build character.
After this performance at Grinnell that bromide should be a source of
embarrassment. It is bad enough that players routinely preen in front of the
television camera after a dunk. It is sickening to hear players curse at one
another and engage in verbal intimidation. Exploiting weak athletes by piling
on is yet the latest perversion in college sports. My guess is Jack Taylor will
be a model, a source of emulation. And a coach, who should know better, is also
likely to represent a new bench standard.

College basketball is a game that can build
character when talented players restrain personal ambition for team goals. It
happened last season at Kentucky with six teammates drafted into the professional
ranks. Of course, at Kentucky academic life is a meaningless after thought
since what happens on the hardwood is all that counts. Yet Coach Calipari,
despite his reputation for challenging academic standards, does teach something
about team play.

Jack Taylor, by all appearances, seems to be
a sensible young man. Perhaps he is embarrassed by all the attention. He should
be. The game in this instance was converted into a gladiatorial event with the
opposition gored into submission. Some may call that basketball; I call it

The Spanier Indictment

In a move that should come as little surprise, former
Penn State president Graham Spanier has been indicted for perjury, conspiracy,
obstruction of justice, and child endangerment. The indictments come in the
wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations
that–after Penn State’s former athletic
director proposed not reporting to police an allegation against Jerry
Sandusky–Spanier had e-mailed administrators to say that “the only downside for us is if the message
isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having
reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline
is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

The basics of the grand jury
indictment against Spanier mirror the conclusions of the Freeh Report–that senior
Penn State administrators, claimed the state’s attorney general, participated
in a “conspiracy of silence” regarding Sandusky’s crimes,
“working to actively conceal the truth, with total disregard
to the suffering of children.” The presentment makes
no claims against Paterno, the attorney general said, because Paterno’s death
marked “the end” of any potential legal ramifications for his behavior.

The grand jury presentment
went into greater detail than did the Freeh Report on two matters. First, in justifying
the perjury charge, the document claimed that “Spanier has repeatedly
misrepresented the level of his knowledge about the investigation.” Both at the
time and in his media barrage this summer, Spanier portrayed himself as
detached and essentially unaware of matters relating to Sandusky, whether in
1998, 2001, or 2011. But the grand jury document indicates that the former
president specifically requested updates from the former Penn State counsel,
Cynthia Baldwin, about the progress of the grand jury inquiry–and seemed
concerned about former coach Joe Paterno hiring his own counsel during the
investigation. According to Baldwin, Spanier mused with her about what type of
information Paterno could be providing to the grand jury.

Second, Spanier’s repeated
excuse as to why he didn’t keep the trustees informed–that he was bound by
grand jury secrecy rules–appears to have been an outright lie. According to the
presentment, the grand jury foreman had told Spanier that the president was
free to discuss his testimony publicly.

Beyond the specifics of the
case, the indictment raises questions about two other entities. First: the NCAA, which leveled draconian
(but appropriate) sanctions against Penn State after the Freeh Report’s
release. Yet while the organization often comes down hard on student-athletes
(or, less often, coaches) who violate its rules, nothing in the sanctions
applied to Spanier, at one point an influential figure within the NCAA. ESPN’s
Jay Bilas has been the most outspoken figure on the NCAA’s apparent double
standard in not sanctioning the college presidents who make up its membership, and
he tweeted after the indictment to wonder why the NCAA hadn’t held Spanier
“accountable” based on the Freeh Report’s findings. Spanier, of course, is
entitled to a presumption of innocence on the criminal charges. But the NCAA doesn’t
use such a standard, and routinely punishes student-athletes on the basis of
far less damaging information than what was presented about Spanier in the
Freeh Report.

the Penn State faculty leadership, especially the University Faculty Senate. In
late August, more than two dozen former leaders of the senate issued an open
letter sharply criticizing the Freeh Report.
“As a document in
which evidence, facts, and logical argument are marshaled to support
conclusions and recommendations,” they wrote, “the Freeh Report fails badly. On
a foundation of scant evidence, the report adds layers of conjecture and
supposition to create a portrait of fault, complicity, and malfeasance that
could well be at odds with the truth.”
As with many critics of the Freeh Report,
these faculty leaders declined to identify any errors in the report, even as
they used space in their letter to celebrate their research abilities.–“as scientists
and scholars.”

Now, however, the state Attorney General
has filed charges along lines very similar to those identified in the Freeh
Report. Will these scientists and scholars have the courage of their
convictions and denounce the indictment as they denounced the Freeh Report? I’m
guessing they’ll choose silence on this occasion.

The NCAA Revokes the Past

Paterno’s statue at Penn
was taken down not
because it was “divisive,” at the university’s new president foolishly said,
but because Paterno was morally obtuse and unworthy of the honor. So far so
good. But what should we think of the NCAA’s flabbergasting decision to erase
history–vacating 13 years of football wins? As a former Penn State
running back said, this decision means he lost every game he ever played. Why
did he ever go back for a third year after playing for two 0-12 teams?
Apparently the NCAA thinks that punishing athletes for off-field malfeasance
that had nothing to do with on-field performance is a perfect way to get back
at Paterno. Why not take the logical next step–vacating Paterno’s contracts, so
he never did coach at Penn
or maybe revoking
his death certificate so he can be attacked in person? Makes sense to me.

Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

sky diver.jpgThe University of North Dakota sports teams have been known as the “Sioux” or the “Fighting Sioux” for more than 80 years. But this week the university’s hockey team played and lost in the NCAA playoffs wearing uniforms that said simply “North Dakota.” The reason: Last November, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed legislation permitting the university to retire its “Fighting Sioux” nickname so its hockey team could play schools that had boycotted teams with offensive mascots. This was a triumph for the NCAA in its years-long war against “hostile and abusive” nicknames and logos.

Quarrels over the dropping of long-cherished “offensive” nicknames often
generate immense acrimony. I personally observed this battle in my 28
years at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Arguments over
the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek were fierce, even contributing
to the firing of uber-PC campus Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

Continue reading Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

What to Do About Big-Money College Sports?

Mark Emmert, the head of the NCAA, is a man with a mission. A
series of unprecedented scandals has eroded confidence in big-time college
sports. In fact, some critics contend the NCAA is an enabler that is
compromised by the billions of dollars colleges earn through football and
basketball programs. Mr. Emmert is intent on changing that perception.

Some contend that the so-called student-athlete should be paid
and, at the very least, have called for “extra money” for athletes. Others
argue that those who violate recruitment regulations and the maintenance of
minimal academic standards should be prohibited from Bowl games and March
Madness tournament participation. With 338 Division I members, whose budgets
range from $5 million to $155 million consensus is not easily achieved. And
some, Joe Nocera of the New York Times for example, contend that “Many NCAA
infractions consist of actions that most people would consider perfectly appropriate
– and entirely legal – but that the NCAA has chosen to criminalize.”

Continue reading What to Do About Big-Money College Sports?

FERPA: Last Refuge of Academic Scoundrels?

Minding the
Campus readers who follow college basketball doubtless have heard about former
St. Joe’s center Todd O’Brien. For others, to recap his story: a few years ago,
the NCAA instituted a rule to allow student-athletes who graduate in four years
but have one year of athletic eligibility remaining to transfer to another
institution, provided that the new school had a graduate program not offered at
their previous school. Each year, a handful of students, mostly in football and
men’s basketball (the sports that most frequently use redshirts, and thus have
players who use all five years of their eligibility) take advantage of the
rule. This season, the highest-profile such figure, quarterback Russell Wilson,
led Wisconsin
to the Rose Bowl.

Continue reading FERPA: Last Refuge of Academic Scoundrels?

Arne Duncan Succumbs to March Madness


The cosmology of ideas to fix America’s supposedly troubled higher education abound. Some resemble comets–small amounts of rock and frozen toxic gas that periodically appear, light up the sky and then vanish only to reappear decades later. Today’s comet-like elixir is directed at the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament (“March Madness”).

The facts are simple enough. First, basketball players are disproportionately African Americans (60%), especially among teams making it to the final four. Second, graduation rates of blacks are shockingly low, far below that of their white teammates. At Kansas State University, for example, all the white players are on the path to graduation compared to 14% of the black players. To be sure, a few teams (e.g., University of Illinois, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt) graduate all players and some graduate more blacks than whites (e.g., Boston University, Northern Colorado),  but the gap is generally large (91% vs. 59%) and is growing.

The typical inference is that universities are exploiting African Americans. Schools recruit these often underprivileged youngsters while the school profits handsomely from their contribution, their “workers” often leave school without a diploma. That a handful will have a brief professional career (and even then, rarely in the big bucks NBA) cannot justify the exploitation and, in a sense, the exaggerated lure of the NBA only adds to the dishonesty.

Continue reading Arne Duncan Succumbs to March Madness

How The NCAA Funds Research Into Itself

An interesting story:

The NCAA has provided what Kretchmar describes as a startup grant for the advisory group and its journal. The association, he said, has no editorial review over the journal, and no controlling hand in the research or colloquiums. The NCAA is, in essence, funding a group of researchers striving to be as independent from the NCAA as possible. So what’s in it for Brand’s association?
“It’s not meant to be guided by the NCAA and controlled by the NCAA,” said Todd Petr, the NCAA’s managing director of research. “But I would say the NCAA is trying to encourage people to do this kind of work. The more data you have, the more national in scope it is, the broader the look, the more information that you have to create policy.”
The NCAA, Petr said, is encouraging a balanced look at the “complete story,” and Brand’s belief is that while not all of the story is good, most of it is. And good research will reveal that.
Existing research certainly paints contrasting sides of the complete story. One NCAA study of incoming athletes in 1994 showed that more than a decade later, 88 percent of those surveyed eventually received their degree, a figure considerably higher than graduation rates that don’t consider transfer students.

College sports are a considerably opaque realm for research (as Chuck Grassley would tell you) and it is promising to see research into them. Read the full piece for a better sense of just what kind of work is being produced.

College Athletes, You Might Have Time For A Class

More evidence to shatter the NCAA’s diversionary talk of the preeminence of academics for college athletes, from the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only, alas):

The NCAA started a Web site last year, NCAAStudent.org, to illustrate how its athletes balance sports with their academic responsibilities. And in Mr. Brand’s speech here, he said the main difference between college and professional sports was that “those who participate in our athletics events are students, and students first.”

But even the NCAA’s athletes don’t believe that’s true. According to an NCAA survey of 21,000 players, the majority view themselves more as athletes than students.

It’s no wonder. Major-college football players reported spending an average of 44.8 hours a week practicing, playing, or training for their sport, the survey found, with golfers, baseball players, and softball players not far behind.

44.8 hours a week spent athletically – there’s a conventional nine-to-six job spent in sport. Then add fifteen hours of classes. Where’s time for study afterwards? I’m not really sure where to find it. The article continues, pointing out that one in five college athletes in the survey stated that their sports commitments prevented them from choosing their preferred major. Additionally, as the NCAA has raised academic requirements for play, “academic advisors have seen an increase in athlete’s choosing certain majors.” Read “easier” majors. Sound like the cart pulling the horse? Exactly.