Mitchell got a lot of heat, but why?
The athlete is not a normal student. What the NCAA refuses to recognize is that there is nothing wrong with being special, being paid for services in the most meaningful way a university can pay a boy. It doesn't taint the athlete any more than it does the scholarship piccoloist in the marching band.
Once it is established what the college athlete on scholarship really is, then his relationship with the coach can be more clearly defined and better appreciated. The relationship is, essentially, that of employer-employee with a dash of father-son.
The faculty senate's position against Dee Andros was that no student should be interfered with in terms of beliefs, mode of dress, etc., "unless it demonstrably interferes with the university's basic function." But what is the university's "basic function" for Dee Andros? Fill the stadium, win games, bring glory, attract alumni donations.
If this were not his basic function, the Oregon State faculty should have been aroused on behalf of Coach Kip Taylor, just as they were for bearded linebacker Fred Milton. Taylor was fired 15 years ago for losing football games. There were no charges of "interference with the human rights" of Kip Taylor.
There are, of course, hundreds of Kip Taylors, coaches who didn't win or, having won a while, stopped winning. Just as no English professor ever gave a boy an athletic scholarship, no faculty senate has yet saved a losing coach from being fired. Dee Andros could take the chance of turning out a winning team without using his own system of discipline. But there would be no protection for him if this didn't work.
"There is," one coach notes, "a way out for the administrators—give a coach tenure and tell him it doesn't matter if he wins or loses and not to worry about whether his players flunk out or not. Either-or. Change the system or let a coach run his shop the way he sees fit. But don't tear him down the middle."
It is obvious that the athlete has grasped the athlete-first, scholar-second priority quicker than those who make the rules. "You can't fool a kid today," says Cotton Fitzsimmons, the basketball coach at Kansas State. "He knows you've recruited him primarily because of what he can do on the basketball court and that your basic interest is not how he will fare in the classroom."
But in interpreting the rights of the scholar-athlete, the NCAA for years has held that he could not be run off or deprived of his scholarship for reasons of discipline within the department or for not performing on the field. It was, in concept, a wise rule designed to protect boys from unfair treatment by coaches. But it presumed, in turn, that the athlete would recognize his responsibilities, too. As the "I quit" era grew, athletes increasingly ignored their part of the scholarship bargain. They knew they could, and often did, come into a coach's office and say, "I'm quitting, but I'm keeping my scholarship and there's nothing you can do about it."
So this year there is a new rule in the NCAA constitution. It appears in Article 3, Section 1, under "Institutional Aid," and what it says, in effect, is that a boy can get himself and his scholarship in difficulty for "serious misconduct"—conduct of sufficient gravity to warrant disciplinary penalties, including manifest disobedience of institutional regulations or "established athletic department policies and rules...."