College Sports Can't Compete

The art of the touchdown or the three-point basket may not be taught in classrooms, but their "instructors" are highly paid by many universities and colleges, though students in these "courses" typically sport the lowest grades.

That's the upside-down world of big-time college athletics. The Knight Commission, made up largely of college and university presidents, has been trying to set things right for 12 years. It has now issued a second report that concludes things are worse now than a decade ago.

"Sports as big business for colleges and universities ... is in direct conflict with nearly every value that should matter for higher education," the report laments. "In the year 2001, the big business of big-time sports all but swamps those values, making a mockery of those professing to uphold them."

The commission's recommendations are pointed: Hold athletes to the same academic standards as other students. Bring the salaries of football and basketball coaches into line with the pay of other faculty members. Reduce the time spent playing and practicing to give athletes a realistic chance of completing their studies. Prohibit gambling on college sports. Ban schools from post-season bowl games or tournaments unless they graduate at least half their athletes, with 2007 as the deadline for meeting that goal.

And the commission further recommends setting up a new body, also composed of top campus executives, to push for these changes and monitor progress. What's envisioned is an environment where education is again paramount and sports is clearly a secondary endeavor.

The commission also suggests the National Football League and National Basketball Association set up minor leagues, so that young athletes with no interest in academic work can attempt to go right into a sports career.

The forces working against these changes are strong. Schools have grown accustomed to revenue from TV contracts and to free equipment from sports apparel companies.

But they need to return to their central mission: education.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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