The following is a blog from May of 2008. After reading it (re-reading for the most loyal of readers), you might just be able to see why coaches weren’t so enthused with their governing organization. The fact the NCAA would lose so much of its clout is something that, 40 years ago, would have been deemed unfathomable. Those of us in the business always thought college athletics (especially football and men’s basketball) were extremely popular but I can’t think of anyone who predicted how much money would be generated. The NCAA must not have believed the old adage: “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.”
The National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) is an absolute necessity. There must be a governing body for intercollegiate athletics. That being said, it can be viewed, not as a necessary evil, but as necessary and evil. My interaction with this colossal organization dates back to 1972 when I took the job of graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Vermont. Back then, many folks closely associated with the NCAA saw it as pure evil.
There are so many personal stories, even for someone so far on the outside, that my comments will probably be spread over at least a couple blogs. “Back in the day,” as the current terminology goes, the NCAA was, if not the most arrogant organization in the country, certainly one that was annually in the finals for the award. They’d win every case against them (caused by many of their unfair and archaic rules) with the same absurd logic, “The NCAA is a voluntary organization. You choose to become a member and may leave it at any time,” as if there was a major university in the country that was about to hold a press conference and say, “We have an announcement to make; as of today, our institution is applying for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).”
It was a monopoly in the truest of sense of the word. Through the years, and with a change in leadership, i.e. when “The Great and Powerful” Walter Byers finally retired, it became, if not “a kinder and gentler NCAA” that some people (mainly those at the NCAA) would like the giant to be thought of, but as a group that makes rules and rulings with more compassion and, in some cases, on an individual basis.
However, the worst idea (aka public relations gimmick) someone thought up is that of “graduation rates and APR” (Academic Progress Rate). This is intended to come off as, “Although we have bright, caring and talented student-athletes in nearly all our sports, certain sports, (namely, those that produce all of our revenue), have not emphasized the ’student’ half of the term we use for their participants. This is very disturbing to us (although not nearly as disturbing as if CBS had not signed off on the $6 billion – with a ‘b‘ – contract for the rights to men’s basketball) and we plan to take immediate steps to … get our fans to think we really care that such a small percentage of the individuals representing these sports actually leave school with a degree (which everyone would like to think is the reason these young, unbelievably gifted, physical specimens enroll in college for in the first place).”
The major problem is the paradigm itself. Certainly, a college degree is the ultimate goal of a college student (unless another opportunity to improve the student’s station in life becomes a possibility, e.g. leaving school early (maybe even after only one year) because he can earns millions doing what he always dreamed of doing or someone like Bill Gates who dropped out of college but still managed to carve out a good living for himself and his loved ones – even if his loved ones number in the billions – with a “b”). The cross-section of colleges throughout the nation have very different, and sometimes diametrically opposed missions. A one-size-fits-all policy is simply unjust.
Examples are Stanford, Duke and the Ivies whose mission is to educate the “classes,” as opposed to, among others, state universities whose mission is to educate the “masses.” The former do their weeding out process on the front end whereas a school like one of my former coaching stops, the University of Toledo, has the admirable policy (or did when I was there from 1987-91) of admitting any child, as long as that student had graduated from an accredited high school in the state of Ohio. There is a need and a place for both types of institutions of higher learning, as well as all those in between. To say their APR’s should be calculated the same way is to say wrestling shouldn’t have different weight divisions for its competitors. Too bad if you weigh 106, your next opponent weighs 350, and if you lose, you’re out (probably cold).
Many people feel athletes should graduate at a higher rate. After all, they contend, they’re on scholarship (the ones mainly being discussed in this blog anyway) and have no monetary problems. Plus, they get all that academic assistance, including the advantage of preferential registration, individual and group tutors, access to computer labs, etc. while the “average” students may have to work part-time jobs to make ends meet and eat and study when they can squeeze it in. This is all true, but consider that the athlete is also “working” for that scholarship and the amount and intensity of the time and work they exert in most cases far exceeds any part-time job in the community. Then, there’s additional pressure (which, granted, the athletes can turn in their favor) that student-athletes are forced to handle, such as being placed in gut-wrenching situations, dealing with the media and having to adjust to inconvenient travel schedules.
Title IX is based on the female population at the school. It would be absurd, for example, to require West Point to spend equal amounts of dollars on its male and female athletes. Instead, the law states the number of scholarship athletes has to be within five percent of the student body (it may have changed to three percent, I’ve admittedly been away from the college scene for several years). So, if a school has a student-body enrollment of 55% women, it has to have a minimum of fifty percent of its athletes be female.
That is how graduation rates should be calculated for all universities. The particular sport should be within (use an arbitrary number, say) five percent of the graduation rate of that university. To reward Stanford for graduating 85% of its athletes in a sport when the overall graduation rate on the Farm might be 95% (numbers are arbitrary and not based on research, just used to make a point) is simply, if not morally, wrong – just as its wrong to penalize a school that graduates 67% of its athletes when the school’s overall graduation rates for its student body is 55%. In a fair and just society, the rewards and penalties would be reversed.
But do you really think that, with the presidents who make up the NCAA’s governing board, that something as reasonable as that will ever happen?
The biggest problem with the NCAA was arrogance, mainly derived from power. As Lord Acton said:
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”