BARELY TOUCHING THE PLATTER
The NCAA Presidents Commission, a group of 44 university presidents supposedly dedicated to correcting the many abuses in intercollegiate athletics, held a meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last week, and one wonders why it even bothered. The commission contemplated a full platter of proposed reforms but then went to bed hungry; by the time the two-day meeting ended, the presidents had decided to sponsor only a single proposal at the full NCAA convention in San Diego in January.
The one reform that received the presidents' blessing was a proposal to extend Bylaw 5-1 (J)—which mandates minimum standardized test scores and grade point averages for freshmen athletes at Division I colleges—to apply to Division II schools as well. The measure would close a big loophole in Bylaw 5-1 (J): Many athletes who can't meet its requirements have elected to attend Division II schools and junior colleges rather than sit out a season and bone up on their studies (SCORECARD, Aug. 4). "There is strong emphasis among chief executives to strengthen academics," University of Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter, the Presidents Commission chairman, said in defense of the measure. "Higher education is there to educate the student. Academics must take precedence over athletics."
Despite such lofty words, the commission otherwise gave no firm evidence of any commitment to reform. It discussed proposals to make all freshmen ineligible for some varsity sports and to tie the number of a school's athletic scholarships to its athletes' graduation rate, but it deferred action on both. Slaughter explained that the commission was "not prepared at this time to try to ram something through the convention in a relatively short amount of time." Not prepared? Freshmen were ineligible for varsity football and basketball from the 1930s to 1971, and proposals to reinstate such a ban as a way of making freshmen athletes concentrate on their studies have been advanced for years, so the presidents have had plenty of time to consider the matter. The idea of tying scholarships to graduation rates has been kicking around for quite a while, too.
The commission also appeared to be dragging its feet in requesting further study of several reforms proposed by the American Council on Education. These measures—which include cutting the size of coaching staffs, shortening seasons, eliminating spring football practice, reducing periods of recruitment and cutting the number of scholarships—would not only save money but would also reduce some of the pressures on students who participate in big-time college sports. Slaughter said that the presidents were "in harmony" with the ACE's proposals and were concerned that athletics today "require an excessive amount of time and energy on the part of the participants, thus unwisely reducing the time that can be devoted to academic concerns." However, instead of acting immediately on the ACE proposals, Slaughter said that University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman will chair a committee whose recommendations on the proposals could be taken up at a special NCAA convention next summer.
It's possible to study things to death, and the sorry state of affairs in college sports is obviously something that requires action. Until it acts more forcefully than it did in Kansas City, pardon us if we give the Presidents Commission a new name: the Presidents Omission.
NOT THAT FAR OVER THE HILL
Former U.S. Davis Cup player Ron Holmberg remains reasonably fit—and still plays a mean game of tennis—at 48. Fortunately, he has retained a sense of humor, too. For a decade he has been telling the one about a guy who pointed him out on the court and said, "That guy used to be Ron Holmberg." Now Holmberg has another story for the joke bag. He was in an over-35 singles match on an outside court at the U.S. Open last month when two women passed by. One of them asked, "I wonder what this is?"
The other replied, "I think it's the over-70s competition."
PIANISSIMO, BUT CON GUSTO
And now, ladies and gentlemen—the Columbia University Marching Quartet! That's what the fans were treated to on Saturday during halftime of Penn's 42-7 win over Columbia at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Their ranks depleted by the Rosh Hashanah holiday, only 4 of 60 musical Lions made the road trip from New York. Undaunted by their chamber-music size, the Columbians waded boldly into Beethoven's triumphal Ode to Joy. Then, in a tribute to the late New York artist Jackson Pollock, the band grabbed streamers and formed an abstract expressionist painting on the field. Finally the instrumentalists rendered a map of Philly which, the announcer said, included "all of the city's major points of interest." One member of the quartet held up a sign saying LIBERTY BELL, then a bandmate held up a sign saying EXIT, and the ensemble hurried off the field. W.C. Fields would have chuckled.