When academics play second string to sports, student athletes are the losers
Today Boston College takes on Notre Dame in college football's Liberty Bowl. No matter which team wins, each college will pocket upwards of $600,000. It is no surprise that college sports have become big business. Money, television networks, gung-ho alumni, and college reputations all put tremendous pressure on college athletic programs to have winning teams. And, according to concerned observers, in many cases the student-athletes are exploited by colleges in the face of such pressures.Skip to next paragraph
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Many athletes sign up to play college football or basketball with hopes of jumping into a glorious career in professional sports. Yet the sobering fact that fewer than 2 percent of them make it as professionals should give colleges incentive to provide them with a good education - and a prospect for the future.
But more sobering statistics show that colleges often do not. In the Big 10 conference, the graduation rate for football players is 36 percent, says Derek Bok, president of Harvard University. In the Southwest conference, he says, only 17 percent graduate.
''College sports really are more professional than amateur,'' Dr. Bok says. Activities that occur within the world of college sports - recruiting violations , gambling on the games, point-shaving, national television coverage, and the money that supports many athletic programs - bear out his assertion.
Here in New England, where higher education is practically enshrined, there are few problems. Yet, even as players prepare for kickoff in today's big-money bowl game in Memphis, the question remains of how to balance academic and athletic priorities.
Nationally, the problem has become so large that school officials are no longer looking the other way. Examples of questionable athletic practices range from mild to scurrilous.
A striking example is the now-famous case of Kevin Ross. Mr. Ross played basketball for Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. After 12 years in public schools and four years at Creighton, Kevin Ross still couldn't read.
He enrolled in a preparatory school in Chicago, and studied with children half his age and height. He graduated again last May. He wanted an education, he says. But, he asserts, the university was unresponsive to his needs.
Creighton, for its part, has publicly stated that Ross was offered tutoring help, and the university did pick up the tab for Ross's studies at West Side Prep.
Not all schools violate rules and run athletic sweatshops, and not all sports are involved. Yet in some schools emphasis on athletics has made academics a secondary concern, says Harry Edwards, a specialist in sports sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. College football and basketball players may put in 50 to 60 hours per week practicing, playing, and traveling, he says.
Yet the students are also required, under the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to carry full academic loads, he says. Such a system produces ''educational mediocrity, and often failure.''