BIG-TIME SOLUTIONS (CONT.)
Rick Telander (Something Must Be Done, Oct. 2) has provided a provocative perspective on major-college athletics. But he has taken only a few readings and concluded that the patient is terminally ill. I don't think so.
Telander deals with the perceived sham of amateur athletics and argues that big-time college football players should be paid. What he apparently fails to understand is that, at every school where athletes are on scholarship, they are getting paid. At a private institution like Notre Dame, for example, a full scholarship is worth $15,314. Here at the University of Akron, which moved up to Division I-A in football in 1987, an in-state student on a full scholarship receives tuition, room, board and books, totaling approximately $5,200. In either case, that is real money.
The point is often made that universities exploit athletes who have exceptional talent. This may be true in some cases. But in my career in higher education, which includes service at Georgia Tech, Nebraska and Texas A&M, I have observed many cases in which talented athletes have wasted their opportunity to gain an education despite sincere efforts by university officials to help them earn their degrees. One reason is that the values of our young people today, particularly those with athletic skills, have been significantly warped by the salaries that are being paid to professional athletes and by the coverage that is given to this area by the media.
While there is a need for reform, I don't think it has to be drastic. The formation of an Age-Group Professional Football League, as Telander suggests, would draw universities further away from their basic purpose and lead to a caste system more pronounced than the one that currently exists.
College and university presidents are beginning to take a more active role in the NCAA; clearly, they have the ability to bring about meaningful reforms. I am also encouraged that a task force, co-chaired by the Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, and William Friday, president emeritus of North Carolina, has been formed to draw up an agenda for reform.
Here are the most needed changes:
?Reduce the economic motivations for winning. After all, the principal benefits to a university for its participation in big-time college athletics are the visibility it attains and the prominence it gains from its success, not the money it earns. The proceeds of the NCAA men's basketball tournament should be distributed to all Division I schools, with those playing in the tournament receiving set percentages and the noncompeting schools an even share of the remaining funds. As for football bowl games, participating schools should be required to contribute a share of their proceeds to the NCAA for equal distribution to all other schools competing in that division. This would change the current situation whereby a few major schools and conferences get the lion's share.
?Allow football players to go into the NFL at the end of any school year the way basketball players can go into the NBA. If it is the player's objective to participate in professional athletics, we ought to allow him to take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. Certainly, other students can drop out of school and go to work anytime they desire.
?Require each school to treat its athletes the same way it treats other students when it comes to admission and retention standards and to eligibility for participation in extracurricular activities. We should not prohibit freshmen from competing in athletics unless we also are willing to prohibit them from playing in the band, holding office in student government, pledging a fraternity or holding a part-time job.