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Edited by Jack McCallum and Richard O'Brien
January 13, 1997
NCAA Presidents Should Get Real
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January 13, 1997


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NCAA Presidents Should Get Real

As college and university administrators gather in Nashville this week for the NCAA convention, they should ponder these words from the Reverend James Loughran, S.J., president of Saint Peter's College, a Division I school in Jersey City, N.J. Loughran believes there is an inherent conflict between what he calls the "irreconcilable objectives" of academic integrity and big-time sports.

This is what needs to be said to the 16-member council of presidents charged with governing the NCAA's three divisions: Your efforts are doomed to fail if you continue legislating more rules and calling for more vigilant enforcement, while at the same time negotiating ever more lucrative TV contracts, million-dollar endorsements and the like. You have a chance to succeed only if you acknowledge the contradiction built into big-time sports and force a choice between professionalism and amateurism, dollars and academic integrity.

Suppose I proposed measures such as these: elimination of athletic scholarships, controls on coaches' salaries and income, and distribution of bowl and tournament profits to needy students. I would be hailed as yet another reformer, but my main point would be lost—namely, that colleges with big-time sports programs are torn between opposing purposes. Suppose I proposed something more radical: that the NCAA be disbanded and that we institute a five-year moratorium on intercollegiate athletics so we can revive recreation and intramurals on campuses. No doubt I would be dismissed as an extremist and again would not be taken seriously.

The NCAA presidents need to face these facts: Big-time college sports conflict not only with amateurism but also with academic integrity and the ideals of any good college; in the system that exists, this conflict is inescapable, and, therefore, reform is impossible. Presidents must get others—fellow presidents, faculty members, politicians, parents—to face these facts. Then it will be time to discuss publicly where sports and competition belong in American higher education.