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THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL
John Underwood
May 19, 1980
The rash of phony transcripts and academic cheating spells out the fact that athletics are now an abomination to the ideals of higher education. Victims: the student-athletes. Culprits: the system and those who run it
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May 19, 1980

The Writing Is On The Wall

The rash of phony transcripts and academic cheating spells out the fact that athletics are now an abomination to the ideals of higher education. Victims: the student-athletes. Culprits: the system and those who run it

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But the problem is much too deep and the abuses too vast to expect reformers, no matter how well motivated, to make a decisive impact. Without legislation and a rebirth of concern for individual (as opposed to fiscal) uplift, "the most cynical observers expect that inequities, abuses, double standards, malpractices and associated internecine warfare in athletic programs and organizations will continue." The words are not SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S, they are those of Pace University's Ewald Nyquist in a report for the American Council on Education.

How to discontinue them? Coaches, administrators and academicians are not in agreement on any one method, but it would be accurate to say that a distillation of their ideas leads to one sure conviction: that the standards have to be raised. That they must be raised first with the colleges so that the effect will filter down and a hard reality made to dawn: that if the athletes are not educated, they will not be admitted, much less graduated.

Immediately, as a first step, the 2.0 Rule for admitting student-athletes to college should be abolished in favor of something a lot tougher. Toughening up the standards would serve two immediate purposes: 1) it would put more pressure on the high schools to prepare their athletes, and 2) it would cut down on the number of non-students who are in college on a bye and are merely marking time in hopes that there will be pro life after educational death.

But how tough do you make the new standards? At present, the best alternative is the "triple option," supported on the NCAA convention floor two years ago and endorsed by the American Football Coaches Association. The "triple option" would begin initially with a 2.25 grade-point-average requirement, instead of the present 2.0. If a high school graduate didn't have that, he could qualify for a scholarship by having either a combined verbal and math SAT score of 750 or a 17 on the ACT.

Once admission standards are up, the following measures should be considered to increase the student-athlete's chances of obtaining a meaningful education—and a degree. The suggestions were culled from a large number of coaches and academicians, and although they don't necessarily reflect the majority opinion, they do encompass what seems to be the better thinking:

1) Postpone the annual signing of high school seniors to athletic scholarships at least until March to give coaches and college registrars a chance to review more intensively grades, test scores, etc.

2) Funnel all high school transcripts of scholarship athletes through a central agency at the NCAA offices. If an incoming athlete is caught with an altered transcript, permanently ban him from intercollegiate competition. If the college coach had a hand in it, permanently ban him, too. If the high school is guilty, let the local school board know about it—in no uncertain terms.

3) Make the percentage of athletes enrolled through affirmative-action programs proportionate to the percentage admitted by the school for the entire incoming class, i.e., if the college has a "4% rule," permit only 4% of the incoming scholarship athletes to be admitted under affirmative-action provisions. If that is found to be too strict a formula, strike one agreeable to the NCAA membership and force all members to comply.

4) Abolish freshman eligibility. An athlete needs his first year in college to become acclimatized and to satisfy the deans that his classroom program is leading toward a degree. Allow him to attend a pre-freshman-year summer session on scholarship to take whatever remedial courses he might also need.

5) Establish uniform NCAA-wide minimum guidelines for "normal progress," so that all institutions are playing by the same rules. Establish a system for reviewing and monitoring progress. Allow access to transcripts by an NCAA arbitrator if a challenge is made by a rival school. If progress is not being made in accordance with the guidelines, make the athlete ineligible for competition and put the school on probation.

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