The money and prestige that drive big-time college sports have so corrupted academic standards on many campuses that the NCAA now appears ready to blow some whistles and throw yellow flags at the worst offenders.
At a conference this week, the NCAA began to discuss meting out penalties for colleges that don't better educate athletes or that admit ones who don't meet the NCAA's minimum for high school grades. (See story.)
This is no trivial issue. Not only do many below-par student athletes hurt a college's academic environment, but their admission is discrimination against worthier applicants - similar to a case now before the Supreme Court involving the use of racial preferences in admissions.
Athletics teaches many fine qualities such as teamwork but, please, not at the expense of gaining academic knowledge and skills for life.
The NCAA has struggled since 1986 to set academic minimums for college athletes. It just lowered its admissions threshold on SAT scores, mostly in order to make sure more black athletes would not be rejected.
But too many college presidents with multimillion-dollar sports budgets don't enforce many of the NCAA rules. And too many athletes hide their academic sloth by majoring in easier programs such as property management. As Paul Kariya, a former hockey player at the University of Maine, Orono, told ESPN The Magazine: "Basket weaving is basket weaving. It doesn't matter where you take it."
Rules and penalties, however, may not help the NCAA in checking this dilution of academics. College presidents themselves must decide if, and how, to tackle this sports beast.