Jewish World Review April 8, 2003 / 6 Nisan, 5763

Terry Eastland

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

University officials must put academics ahead of athletics | If you follow men's college basketball, you know that Georgia isn't playing tonight in New Orleans for the national championship. But it could be - had it not disgraced itself.

Georgia finished the regular season with 19 wins and 8 losses, having won 11 of 16 games in the Southeastern Conference. Having defeated four Top 25 teams, Georgia was ranked 21st in the Associated Press poll. Not even an opening round defeat in the SEC tournament was going to stop it from getting an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

But as the regular season ended, in an interview on ESPN, former Georgia player Tony Cole accused Jim Harrick Jr., the assistant coach and son of head coach Jim Harrick, of academic fraud. Mr. Cole said he received an "A" for a course taught by the younger Harrick, though he never attended a single class. The course was "Basketball Strategy."

The university did an investigation. Whereupon, having confirmed Mr. Cole's charge, it fired Jim Harrick Jr. It also declared ineligible two starters who also had received an "A" in "Basketball Strategy" (the only grade given to those "taking" the "course"). It then suspended Jim Harrick with pay, pending an investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. And it declared the season over.

In case you are new to the story, Georgia isn't the only university whose men's basketball program has majored in academic fraud. Consider Fresno State's, where the former team statistician wrote papers for players. And then there is St. Bonaventure, where the president (yes, the president, since resigned) approved the transfer of an academically ineligible player (so deemed by the admissions office because he had received a certificate in welding from his junior college).

Those who closely follow college sports debate where the academic fraud is worse - in football or men's basketball. But there can be little doubt that, whether or not programs cross important lines, many have a tenuous, if not an attenuating, relationship to academics. That is the deeper problem, and it is easy to see why it is a problem. Schools want the big TV revenue; coaches, the big salaries and ancillary income; players, even before they matriculate, the professional (and big-moneyed) careers. Academics lose priority, and a "college sport," like a "student athlete," becomes an oxymoron.

Assuming universities still wish to portray themselves as places of "higher education," reform must start with them. Fortunately, the president of the NCAA, Myles Brand, is himself a former university president who has declared his interest in making sure that college athletes are indeed students. Likewise pressing for the same goal are the heads of several universities, including Gordon Gee, the chancellor at Vanderbilt, who once presided over Ohio State, which has the biggest athletics program in the country.

Mr. Gee recommends three reforms, all compelling. One is to tie the number of scholarships a school offers to graduation rates. The rule would be: for every student on, say, a basketball scholarship who doesn't graduate (within six years), the school has one less basketball scholarship to give. (Division I men's programs currently can give 13 scholarships.) Mr. Gee also would tie graduation rates to the distribution each school in a conference receives from TV revenue. Thus, instead of an equal distribution, schools failing to graduate a high number of their athletes would receive a lesser payout.

Those two changes would motivate universities to recruit students (a) they were confident could do the academic work necessary to graduate and (b) they believed weren't eager to leave school early for the pros. To make sure universities didn't water down the academics, Mr. Gee also recommends a required core curriculum for those on athletic scholarships. "They should be legitimate courses," he told me, "in English, math, languages and so on."

Mr. Gee says he "goes back and forth" on whether to make freshmen ineligible. That would be a blunt rule, foreclosing first-year action to a potential Rhodes scholar, a Bill Bradley, say. But it might improve the graduation rate, since freshmen could focus more on academics.

I would favor such a rule - and whatever else might return academics to the daily fare of the college athlete. It is time for higher education to get its priorities right. As Mr. Gee says, "First we have the university and then we play football or basketball. We don't play them first and then attach them to the university."

Appreciate this writer's work? Why not sign-up for JWR's daily update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

04/02/03: Support for our soldiers means support for their orders
03/27/03: 'Free Iraqi Forces' underscore Bush's sincerity
03/18/03: Dems misunderstand judge's job
03/13/03: Justices show right restraint in ruling on anti-crime measures
03/05/03: America's imperial intentions
02/25/03: The weakness of Dems' stated reason for their filibuster makes you wonder whether it is the real reason
02/19/03: Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education
02/12/03: France and Germany need to be reminded of the necessity of a strong, even predominant America
02/06/03: Judiciary's 'balance' -- or lack of it -- is our doing
01/29/03: The child who almost wasn't
01/21/03: President decides to punt on affirmative action case
01/14/03: Bush's faith has influenced his conduct in public office
01/07/03: Dems need ideas, not more microphones
12/17/02: Gray Lady should learn that times have changed
12/10/02: Will High Court be guilty of activism?
12/03/02: The missing facts in news accounts of Saudi Princess Haifa's putative 'charity'
11/26/02: Americans don't have to be worried about Big Brother
11/19/02: Texas' reputation for flamboyance may be revised
11/11/02: Bush now can repair confirmation system
11/05/02: Dems shouldn't believe too strongly in history
10/30/02: Snipers had lots of motives
10/23/02: No one should be shut out of marketplace of ideas
10/15/02: Open hearings that could imperil the nation
10/08/02: Debating the clear and present danger
10/01/02: A great awakening in China?
09/25/02: Abortion, again? The settled but still unsettling law of Roe v. Wade
09/18/02: A relevant presidency--and irrelevant U.N?
09/10/02: Ashcroft's obtuse judicial statement
09/04/02: The Education Gadfly stings again
08/28/02: So then let the president declare war
08/21/02: Will Bush finally 'fix' affirmative action once and for all?
08/06/02: President must take up cause of Egyptian democracy warrior
07/31/02: With each war, civil liberties are curtailed less

© 2002, Terry Eastland