The national intercollegiate athletic situation is in considerable flux and, I believe, may have entered a period of rapid transition. Many colleges and universities are facing critical questions which cannot be begged for long.
The most significant factors influencing collegiate sports over the last two decades have been the enormous growth in the size and influence of professional sports, and the prominence of television. Professional sports have become big business - for owners and players alike--and TV coverage of sporting events, supported by staggering advertising revenues, has brought big money into the sports world, at both the professional and collegiate level.
There are positive effects of these developments, such as the generation of revenues at some universities sufficient to pay for their entire athletic program. However, I want to dwell on the negative effects of the increased monetary stakes, for both institutions and individual players. They are manifested everywhere:
* The scandals of doctored transcripts, academic cheating, violations of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) rules on recruiting, and financial support of athletes;
* The increased litigation--of universities against the NCAA (which is, after all, an organization composed of the universities and colleges) and of athletes against their universities;
* The recent organizational change in the NCAA Division I restricting membership in Divison IA to universities with large stadia and high attendance for football which, in effect, sets the level of competition in football solely on a revenue criterion;
* Talk of organizing intercollegiate athletes in order to gain compensation in recognition of the revenues produced by sporting events;
* The ruling by a federal district judge that the University of Minnesota cannot deny a basketball player the right to play on the team because he has not maintained a sufficient academic record;
* The hiring of an athletic director/football coach by Texas A&M at an annual level of compensation of $287,000, and the report a few days later that the University of Nebraska boosters club is seeking to raise $100,000 to supplement the salary of their football coach;
* The increasing influence on intercollegiate sports of largely independent booster clubs; and
* The internecine conflicts over television contracts.
In effect, the major football and basketball--and to a lesser extent, hockey--powers have become the farm clubs for the professional teams. I find it interesting that in baseball, where the professional farm teams have long existed, the pressures on the intercollegiate sport are dramatically less. May not the time have arrived when it would be desirable to recognize openly this symbiotic relationship between the big athletic powers and professional sports, and make the necessary structural changes?
I, for one, see no harm in associating a professional or semi-professional team with a university; and I do see a number of benefits. Athletes should, of course, have the opportunity to take courses and pursue a degree, if they wish; but they would be regarded as athletes first and should be paid accordingly. By so doing, the regulatory and enforcement burden and the temptations for illegal and unethical practices would be dramatically eased.
The clear separation between the academic and athletic purposes of the university would be beneficial to both. Who would care if a coach were paid a salary seven times that of the average full professor, so long as the economics of the situation justified it? The ambiguities and stresses which now press on the integrity of the academic programs would be eased.
If the big athletic powers were to choose this course, I think it would benefit all of intercollegiate athletics. High school seniors would be given a more clearly defined choice among different kinds of post-secondary athletic experiences. The general public could recognize more clearly the nature of athletic competition in different leagues. The pressures toward ''professionalism'' on those institutions which chose a different course might be lessened.