Academic reform? College presidents should look in mirror first
Posted: Tuesday January 13, 2004 1:00PM; Updated: Tuesday January 13, 2004 1:00PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's bad enough when coaches like Larry Eustachy, Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price make more headlines for embarrasing misdeeds than for sports heroics. But what's up with the college presidents getting in the act?
From people who are supposed to bring integrity to the game, more than a few pompom-waving, hands-on college presidents sure seem to be flunking Ethics 101. Instead of cleaning up the college game and championing academics -- which NCAA boss Myles Brand and the reform crowd has rightly preached -- some of these guys have recently screwed up in a fashion that would have cost most athletic directors their jobs.
* How about Auburn president William Walker flying off in a booster's jet, bent on luring Bobby Petrino away from his contract as Louisville's football coach.
* Or embattled Georgia president Michael Adams cutting a side deal with fired football coach Jim Donnan while pushing the hire of the rules-challenged Jim Harrick, who would lead the basketball program to NCAA probation, including academic irregularities.
* Or Missouri president Elson Floyd inviting to his Fourth of July party basketball star Ricky Clemons, who blew off curfew at a local halfway house to attend and crashed Floyd's ATV outside the president's home. (The tapes of Clemons' jailhouse phone conversations with Floyd's wife are nice, too.)
Oh, yeah, the push for academic reform, to restore integrity? Well, the NCAA ended its annual convention here Monday with the Brand saying all the right things -- except the franchise-makers, the guys and gals supposedly shepherding the fat-cat programs, stayed away in droves. Only 16 of the 117 Division I-A presidents made the trek.
"That is a phenomena we're going to have to work on," said Robert Hemenway, University of Kansas chancellor and chair of the Division I board of directors. "The collegiate model that Myles is talking about won't work if we don't get a renewed vigor on the part of the presidents to be engaged in the NCAA."
If college presidents really want to come down from their ivory towers and get acquainted with their athletic programs, why not spare one weekend for a collegial discussion of the sports issues? What's a more volatile department on campus? And what finer setting to discuss around why the football coach, if you're a serious I-A program, probably makes three or four times your salary?
Lest anyone forget, while Brand champions getting away from the pro model, it is college presidents who are signing off on $2 million-plus contracts for the likes for Bob Stoops, Bobby Bowden and Nick Saban. It's college presidents who are paying the price to win, to stay in good graces with the alumni and boosters. It's college presidents who are bickering over BCS millions and fiercely staking out their turf in conference realignment.
So is there any more integrity in the system as presidents are asked to play a greater role? In most cases yes, but just don't assume it is true on every campus.
"When you see some of these presidents do screwy, interesting things, I don't know that things are changed markedly over the last few years," said Houston athletic director Dave Maggard, formerly AD at Miami and Cal-Berkeley. "Some of these guys don't have the power to tell boosters or the money guys, 'Look, this is the way the thing is going to be. I'm going to cut this program down.' They'd be gone."
Is there a double standard here? Last spring when coaches were acting up, Brand spoke of a "crime wave" and "bad actors" in the coaching profession. Yet now he barely acknowledges the presidential shenanigans and speaks only by name of the St. Bonaventure situation, where ex-president Robert Wickenheiser was caught having admitted a junior-college basketball transfer on a welding certificate.
"Presidents can make mistakes, too," Brand said when pressed on his near silence. "And when they make mistakes I will be on them just as quickly, like a fly on honey as they say."
That's interesting to hear. In the meantime, let's include college presidents on those who need be encouraged to do the right thing -- and send out early invitations for next year's NCAA convention.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.