Coaching the Coaches

A worrisome trend of academic fraud, gambling, alcoholism, and other moral and ethical lapses among some college coaches needs serious attention.

While most coaches remain responsible, just this year alone, (in a still evolving story) a basketball coach and athletic director at Baylor University resigned over multiple NCAA rules violations that came to light following the death of one of the school's players and murder charges against a former teammate.

A coach at the University of Georgia resigned in March following an academic-fraud scandal. Another at the University of Alabama was let go over an alleged moral lapse. A coach at Iowa State resigned after a newspaper published pictures of him drinking and partying with female students after his team lost a game. (He later admitted to an alcohol problem.) Another coach at the University of Washington was fired for allegedly betting on college basketball games.

The good news: Such infractions are more in the open today than in the past, when universities often covered up such episodes to "save" their reputations.

What drives some coaches to such extremes? The pressure of money in college sports, mostly, the experts say. At salaries exceeding $1 million a year, coaches are among the highest paid individuals at colleges and universities. TV companies pay many millions for the right to broadcast tournaments. Schools look to winning teams to bring in money for new stadiums, for instance, and help build prestige. All that can force colleges into deficit spending.

Further, the public, and the colleges themselves, put coaches, along with star athletes, on impossibly high pedestals. Coaches may simply come to believe they're above reproach.

Schools should make a concerted effort to have athletic programs reflect their underlying values, not just promote the school name.

Fans must not put winning above a need for coaches who can provide athletes with leadership and help instill solid values. And coaches must serve as role models, keeping the ties between sports and sportsmanship taut. That's the most important part of their job.

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