RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Sports scandals have led commentator Frank Deford to make a modest proposal.
FRANK DEFORD reporting:
There are two eternal issues in sport where when I grow utterly exasperated, I fall back on libertarian solutions. The issues are drugs and the academic fraud of college athletics. The solution: eliminate all standards; that is, to whit, with drugs, let any athlete take into his body anything his heart desires. After all, aren't drugs just another new finer training device, like pure oxygen, or better diet, or improved sneakers?
And with college athletics: let colleges suit up, for four years, any able-bodied player, whether or not he ever bothers to see the interior of a classroom. What really, does college sports have to do with academics. It's an insoluble issue anyhow--with us since the 19th century. Come to think of it, college athletics is like a drug. To the athlete, the drug dealer says, hey, take this substance, it'll make you strong. To the coach, the athlete dealer says, hey, take this player, it'll make you a winner.
And lately, college athletics, vis-à-vis academics, has been everywhere in the news. Pete Thamel of the New York Times exposed a national diploma mill racket wherein so-called prep schools would be set up for football or mostly basketball players, simply to give these players make-believe high grades to make them eligible for college admission.
Universities as fine as George Washington blithely accepted clearly unqualified players from these prep schools which one college coach characterized as crack houses with a gym. The athletes are dumb, the colleges play dumb, everybody gets happy.
Then the NCAA came out with a list of 65 colleges that had failed to pass the organizations' academic progress rate. But guess what? Not a single major football college was on the list and just one major basketball school--DePaul. Instead, the whipping boys were the likes of Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee State and several of the traditionally black colleges like Prairie View and Florida A&M. So, the NCAA comes off, not as an overseer, but as a bully. Hey, the NCAA does try, bless it's heart. But, it can't get to the real crux of the issue--what goes on internally at any athletic department.
Who knows how many athletes have term papers written for them. How many attend gimme gut courses or those taught by the jock-loving enablers on the faculty. The goal is not education but eligibility. Big, rich State U has advisors and tutors to prop its athletes up--keep 'em eligible. Poor little Prairie View is at the end of the day, being punished for being, well, poor.
It's ever been thus, even in the best of families. In This Side Of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about his Princeton alma mater, They'd let any well tutored flat-head play football, and that was almost a century ago. Nothing changes. It never will. The rules don't encourage assent; they only foster more creative deception.
Why don't we make honest men of college athletes? Some just aren't capable of regular college work. Okay, but music students are allowed to major in music; art students, in art. Let football players major in football and basketball players major in basketball. We'll all feel much better that way.
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The comments of Frank Deford, Senior Contributing Writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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