Keep freshmen off the varsity team

By , Lattie F. Coor is president of the University of Vermont.

A great deal has been made of the decision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to require modest academic qualifications for incoming freshmen as a part of their varsity eligibility in the first year of college. As well, much has been made of the need for first-year students to perform adequately in academics before achieving eligibility for varsity sports.

I truly regret that any standard may implicitly exclude any group, either the students of a historically black college or black college students in general. This has been the claim of some coaches at Big Ten schools.

But I would ask: Why not offer students an education as an inducement to come to our college campuses? I see the NCAA decision, Proposal 48, as just that - an academic inducement. In part, Proposal 48 sets a minimum score on college entrance examinations (SAT and ACT) as a prerequisite for varsity-level participation in the freshman year.

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The decision has nothing to do with admission to colleges, but everything to do with varsity eligibility. High school athletes still can be offered first-year scholarships, regardless of their SAT and ACT scores. They have the first year of college to show they are able to do college-level work. And they can participate in nonvarsity intercollegiate athletics.

What this policy will do is to force high schools and colleges to offer strong academic programs to all students. This is an important motivation. The college or university that can offer a sound education to the superb high-school athlete will be in competition, then, with every other Division I college and university promising the same inducement - a quality college education.

If all other inducements we keep hearing about, like money, are not permitted (but we are told they are offered), then why not, I say, offer an education as an inducement?

I know there are some who feel the academic standards are too high, and argue that this is an improper use of standardized test scores. If the standard is applied in an arbitrary or discriminatory way, I would agree. Frankly, I feel the solution is not strong enough. The action taken at the NCAA convention is only a partial solution.

I personally believe that total elimination of freshman eligibility is the answer. Only in the past 10 years have freshmen been permitted to play varsity sports on any campus in the United States.

The University of Vermont (UVM) was one of a handful of Division I schools threatened with loss of Division I status because of no varsity football team and a lower ''attendance potential'' for varsity men's basketball games than some urban-based universities.

We offer high-quality athletic programs, and we do so in a mature athletic context. We are more interested in providing balance across all of our sports, both for men and for women, than in the number of people watching men's varsity basketball.

Intercollegiate football is the only major sport not offered at UVM. We have made a conscious choice which, I believe, does not reduce our commitment to intercollegiate athletics, but strengthens it.

Since that decision to drop football in 1974, we have substantially expanded the number of teams we field, both for men and for women. This has resulted in two national championships and regional playoffs in four sports over the past three years.

What is wrong with asking a student to come to our campus as a student?

What is wrong with making sure the incoming student is a student first?

Elimination of freshman eligibility would substantially reduce the problems of athletes who leave our campuses without degrees and, more often than not, without positions in professional sports.

I believe in the concept of competitive homogeneity. At UVM, we do not wish to compete with institutions whose values, level of competition, or institutional commitment to varsity athletics are not roughly comparable to our own. No school should compete with another institution if the two cannot, over time, be truly competitive. At present, the instrument for determining homogeneity proposed by the NCAA is far too crude. Playing, or not playing football, for example, has been given too much prominence.

I now feel, as do many chancellors and presidents who attended the recent NCAA convention in San Diego, that we need to find more effective ways for all presidents to play key roles in policymaking on major athletic issues so important to our institutions.

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