Intercollegiate Athletics: Devaluing Education

Placing college sports above scholarship harms all students and damages the integrity of the university. Simply put, college athletic programs create a double standard for students by elevating students who play sports above the rules, simply because they have proven their athletic abilities. This occurs in three ways: lax admission policies for athletes, professors changing the standards for athletes, and a lack of integrity among students and athletic administration regarding schoolwork.

Scholar Brad Wolverton writes, “In the next two months, more than 400 colleges are expected to ask the NCAA for leniency as the association hands out penalties to teams that have failed to graduate at least half of their athletes within six years” (41). The NCAA and college administration offices themselves are beginning to crack down on intercollegiate athletics programs across the country. Although some believe that athletics are important in the college world, more students than ever are taking advantage of the system by putting games and practice before scholarship. College sports are an important part of the total college experience.

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However, scholarship should be the primary focus. College graduates are expected to have a certain amount of knowledge about their chosen field, and they are expected to be able to apply this knowledge following graduation to contribute in the real world. While some college athletes go on to play professional sports, and thus sports are their career, the athletes that are not recruited are left with underdeveloped and insufficient skills. They are then unable to compete in the workforce. Therefore, not only does this structure of placing sports above scholarship hurt the college, it eventually hurts the players as well.

Seniors in high school who play sports and hope to play at a college level feel the pressure of recruiters and sports administration who come to high school games. Coaches have no roots in the academic system for a school in most cases. They only care about having a winning team. In fact, their salaries depend on it. Wolverton writes, “The commission notes that a growing number of institutions are petitioning the NCAA to allow freshman athletes with low grades and poor standardized-test scores to play college sport” (41).

When a coach sees a player that can help the team, their first priority is to help that student gain admission to the school at whatever cost. Writes John Sibley Butler in “It’s Not Academic – It’s Competition,” On one hand, test scores are established as a criterion for admission to the university, but on the other hand people who bring to the university a certain skill (which is not in the overall criteria for the university) may not meet the expected standards…Indeed, it is this reality which produced the ‘loophole’ which allows some student athletes to enter the university with scores significantly different from other students.

College admission offices are feeling the pressure from coaches to lower standards, offer scholarships, and accept sub-par applicants just because they can hit a baseball or catch a touchdown. For many colleges, it is a case of “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” when it comes to student athletes. “If we accept a larger share of athletics revenue for academic purposes, we buy into sports programs that employ students at full-time jobs as athletes and construct for them an alternative education experience that is not an integral part of serious academic life at our university” (Palaima, B12).

At the same time, not relaxing the college admissions policies for the best athletes means that the school may be giving great players to other teams, which will in turn hurt admissions in general. The bottom line is that this kind of preference is happening, whether we like it or not. “Football and men’s basketball student athletes have lower entering board scores and lower core high school GPAs than other student athletes. Thus, NCAA data support the contention that student athletes participating in football and men’s basketball are given preferential admissions treatment” (Bates).

In another report, the author finds, “Many of the most elite institutions in the country, institutions that are not tempted by obscenely large sneaker and television contracts, are violating their own standards to admit competitive athletes” (Blaich). Admissions aside, once a student athlete enters the academic world, he or she often gets special treatment from professors in order to be eligible to play and attend practices. Writes Thomas G. Palaima in “The Real Price of College Sports,” College students are at what the ancient Greeks called the ephebic stage of transition to adulthood.

They should be setting their own courses, literally and metaphorically…athlete-students have full-time jobs as athletes. They have limited opportunity for the self-motivated intellectual exploration that would make them student-athletes. As former UT President Peter T. Flawn wrote bluntly in 1990, ‘Academic performance is a consideration only because a minimum level of performance is necessary for the athlete to stay in school to continue to be eligible in the athletic program. (B12) This way of thinking is the primary problem. Professors have no problem changing grades because at most colleges, athletics come first and academics come second.

This creates a double standard because students who do not play college sports are asked to perform differently and at a higher level academically. Charles F. Blaich, a professor himself at Wabash College, writes, “Unfortunately, faculty, coaches, and administrators tend to bring a bit more baggage to the question of athletics than they do about other programs. This baggage comes in the guise of faculty members who dismiss the potential educational benefits of athletic competitions out of hand and assume that athletes have somehow forsaken intellectual ability in exchange for their physical gifts. ”

He later goes on to write, “Those of us who teach at institutions that are not on that team should resist the temptation of trying to improve our status by establishing association by guilt. ” In other words, keeping love for a sports team out of the classroom is most important. “It would be disingenuous at best to try to join this elite group by aligning ourselves with their self-induced problems” (Blaich). Unfortunately, this is not the mindset of many college professors and even some administrators, like those who write curriculum. Students who play sports are raised to a higher level as heroes, and therefore get special treatment.

This not only hurts other students, but also the student athletes themselves, since after college, sports most likely not the way they will make a living. While the great majority of professional athletes are recruited from college, a greater majority of college athletes do not go on to play in a professional league. After graduation, they will have to use other skills to seek employment. However, due to the special treatment they received during college, these skills will be underdeveloped. This makes it much more difficult for student athletes once college is over.

Many colleges even have majors that are specifically meant to be easier for student athletes. “The term ‘student-athletes’ is an oxymoron…the commission had failed to ‘address reality,’ allowing men’s basketball and football players to take easy classes, participate and compete year-round, and treat college sports as if it were their profession” (Wolverton, 42). Unfortunately, while college administration and the NCAA may be concerned about these problems, coaches and sports administration are not and are simply trying to hide the poor academic performances of their best players.

Once of the saddest cases of this took center stage at the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s. Writes scholar Welch Suggs, Investigators hired by the university had spent eight months interviewing current and former athletics officials, faculty members, players, and administrators about a wide range of allegations, including reports that a former athletics-department secretary, Jan Gangelhoff, had completed more than 400 class assignments for at least 18 basketball players from 1993 to 1998. ” (52)

This school is not alone in this kind of unethical behavior. Also, in some cases, professors and sports teams work together to create the double standard. In the University of Minnesota case, Suggs writes, “Faculty and staff at a minimum abetted an ongoing climate of academic misconduct, and in several instances actually were aware that improper academic assistance was being provided to basketball student-athletes…five professor have players improper help, such as accepting papers that they suspected had not been written by the players” (52).

Coaches, unfortunately, rarely have an incentive to stop this kind of behavior. Writes Palaima, “In their post-Rose Bowl euphoria, the system regents increased head football coach Mack Brown’s annual salary by $390,000, to $2. 55-million” (B12). Brown has 2. 55 million reasons to hide players’ poor academic achievement. Others have similar incentives – the more your team wins, the higher your paycheck goes. There is not a lot of motivation to turn in your best players if they are cheating on tests or papers.

Worse yet are schools who give bonuses to coaches specifically who have players doing well academically. Writes Palaima, “Its head basketball coach received a $40,000 bonus because his players exceeded a team grade-point-average target of 2. 45” (B12). Because of it lax admission policies, double standard among professors, and lack of ethics in the collegiate sports world, athletics programs simply are corrupting educational institutions form around the world. This is not necessary.

As Butler notes, “There appears to be no connection between football players’ test scores and the degree of success a team has on the field” (262). Therefore, if athletes are forces to be students first and athletes second, they will step up to the plate. Colleges across the country need to address this situation. If not, student athletes will continue to play the “dumb jock” stereotype and will not only lower college standards, but also not be ready to face the world after graduation. Most student athletes take college sports very seriously and treat it as a full-time job.

However, this is not surprising considering the pressure to win all of the time. Allowing student athletes to focus on sports rather than academics is a disservice to them and their futures. Major reforms are needed in order to harmoniously merge the worlds of sports and academia. Without this reform, including focusing more money and time on scholarship instead of sports, college graduates will continue to be unprepared for the real world after their college days of playing football or other sport are over.