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MAJORING IN SPORTS AT ARIZONA
The Arizona Daily Star recently reported that 27 University of Arizona football players and nine members of last season's basketball team had remained eligible for intercollegiate sports even though they were on academic probation at the end of the spring semester. The Tucson newspaper said that on a 4.0-point scale, all 36 athletes had less than a 2.0-point, or C, cumulative grade-point average so far in their college careers. One basketball player reportedly had a 0.3913 overall average, roughly a D minus, and one football player had a 0.3158. Such grades would mean that those athletes had failed more courses than they'd passed. The Daily Star said that the grades of some of the athletes would have warranted expulsion from school had officials been so inclined—which they clearly were not.
The shockingly low grades reported by the newspaper raised the question of how strictly Arizona had enforced Pac-10 regulations specifying that athletes must receive passing grades in at least 24 semester units each year. Although Arizona officials tried to intimate that the stories were inaccurate, they failed to dispel the impression that the school had been extraordinarily lax in the matter of academic eligibility. Moreover, several of them responded to the startling evidence that their athletes had been coddled academically by suggesting, in effect, that those athletes be accorded even more special treatment in the form of a proposed new curriculum designed to prepare them for a career in sports. The program, in which a degree might be offered, would provide aspiring professional athletes courses in contract negotiations and how to select an agent and would also provide training toward careers in coaching and sports administration.
The main force behind the proposal was Thomas Chandler, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs all three state universities—Arizona, Arizona State and Northern Arizona. Chandler expressed the belief to SI's Jill Lieber that some Wildcat athletes had faltered in the classroom because "we as educators haven't been practical enough in recognizing their area of interest. Suppose an athlete is enrolled in Chinese Mythology but is deficient in writing, math and oral skills. He should be taking English 141, Public Speaking 142 and Math 143 and be working toward a degree in, say, SID [sports-information director] work, sportscasting, athletic training or coaching." Chandler added: "The course of study would, not be fluff stuff. It would be a course of substance." Chandler's scheme won support from University of Arizona President John P. Schaefer, who noted that many colleges prepared gifted artists and actors for careers. He added, "Society has not come to accept the fact that some people have great physical talent and they're trying to parlay that into a professional career in athletics."
There is reason to question the avowed objectives of the proposed sports curriculum. Over the past decade the University of Arizona has seen perhaps 1,000 varsity athletes come and go, but only a score of them are now playing professional golf, football, basketball and big-league baseball. Jobs in coaching and sports administration are almost as tight. They presumably call for better-than-average verbal and other academic skills and are frequently filled by non-athletes, few of whom ever were D-minus students. In other words, although a sports curriculum might be tailored to athletes' "interests," it wouldn't necessarily be suited to their talents. It would simply perpetuate among high school and college athletes the already pervasive misconception that they will be able to make a living in sports, a notion that prevents them from acquiring a meaningful education or job skills they can actually use.
In their desire to attract and keep talented football and basketball players, Arizona authorities seem unwilling to weed out athletes incapable of doing college work, with the result that those athletes tend to be academic misfits. Revealingly, Chandler defended his proposal by arguing that athletes are "awfully important to us," an importance reflected, he said, in the "way we go out and recruit them to entertain for us." But the most telling remark was one uttered by another advocate of the sports-curriculum idea, Arizona's athletic academic advisor, Dan Winters, who said, "We recognize the farce of putting some of our kids into regular classes with regular students."
HIGHEST COURT IN THE LAND
Like other sedentary folk, the people who deal with the U.S. Supreme Court's staggering case load—secretaries and clerks, as well as the Justices—need their exercise. Not content with the workout derived from ascending the 53 broad steps leading to the colonnaded Supreme Court Building or, indeed, from negotiating the corridors of that block-square edifice, court personnel field two coed softball teams in local leagues for federal employees. One team is drawn from the ranks of the court's 80-member police force, the other from among law clerks, secretaries and messengers. The nine Justices have evinced no interest in entering the league as an entity, which is probably just as well. For one thing, softball teams are made up of 10 players. Besides, where would one find an umpire so bold as to rule against them?
But the Justices don't just ride the bench, either. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger goes in for horseback riding, John Paul Stevens is an avid tennis player and small-plane pilot and other Justices let off steam playing basketball in the Supreme Court Building's fifth-floor mini-gym, which is known as the Highest Court in the Land. One rabid hoopster is Byron (Whizzer) White, an All-America football halfback at Colorado who at 67 is a spirited participant in pickup games. In a game a few years ago, White accidentally stepped on and broke the foot of one of Justice Potter Stewart's clerks.
Another habitu� of the gym is Sandra Day O'Connor, who has assumed the retired Stewart's seat on the Court. An athletic woman who golfs, skis, plays tennis and rides horses and whose 24-year-old son, Scott, was a member of a Stanford 400-yard freestyle relay team that placed sixth in the 1977 NCAA swimming championships, O'Connor has joined 15 other women, mostly secretaries and clerks, in an exercise class held in the gym daily at 8 a.m. Pleading privacy, Barrett McGurn, the Court's public information officer, has turned down requests by TV crews to film the class. All McGurn will say is that the half-hour course is taught by a visiting YWCA instructor, who tries to make sure that participants are as judicious about their weight as they are about minding the scales of justice.