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What's the charge, Mulvaney?"
"University kid," replied Mulvaney. "Some frat men say he stole their loving cup."
Those were innocent days, the late 1940s, a time when humorist Max Shulman could lightly write about Dobie Gillis getting busted for allegedly swiping Chi Psi's beloved hardware. As the stories about Oklahoma and Colorado on the following pages suggest, today's university kids—the athletes among them, anyway—are more likely to stand accused of rape, assault, break-ins and drug trafficking than they are of Joe College pranks. Coming on top of the widespread under-the-table payments and the academic abuses also associated with big-time intercollegiate sports, the offenses committed by athletes against people and property cast a shadow across American campuses. Loving cups aren't being stolen these days; universities are being robbed of their integrity.
You've heard this integrity stuff before, of course. We've got to clean up college sports, the reformers keep proclaiming. Teddy Roosevelt said something along those lines when he was in the White House, and that was even before Dobie Gillis. It was surely before athletes succumbed to steroid-stoked craziness and before they got to shooting guns in the jock dorms. Alas, for all the jeremiads against corruption in varsity sports, colleges haven't done much to improve things. So turn off the broken record, and let's get out to the stadium early for some serious tailgating, right? But wait....
Let's look at what intercollegiate athletics is about. College presidents and athletic directors will tell you that their sports programs develop school spirit, raise money for other purposes and enhance their institutions' image. What they mean is that winning does all that. And because not everyone can win, the scramble to do so leads many schools to commit deeds that have exactly the opposite effect.
School spirit? Students resentful at seeing fat cats getting the best seats and parking spots may not feel so rah-rah. Raise money? In fact, schools plow much of their sports-generated money right back into their major-sports teams, football especially, the better to provide gleaming weight rooms and to finance all those scholarships. Enhance a school's image? Is Oklahoma's image helped by the fact that its football team is on NCAA probation and that five of its athletes have been accused of felonies in recent weeks?
Win-at-all-cost pressures have drawn many schools down a dark path. Twenty-two schools are on NCAA probation, including not only Oklahoma but also, to name only the most prominent cases, Houston, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and TCU in football and NCAA champion Kansas in basketball. In addition, Kentucky's basketball program is under NCAA investigation for alleged recruiting violations and academic fraud. And remember, the NCAA doesn't impose sanctions for criminal misconduct, like cocaine trafficking or stealing a dorm neighbor's stereo, but only for violations of its rule book.
There's no telling which schools will next face disgrace. A few years ago the University of San Francisco dropped basketball after an in-house investigation uncovered recruiting violations and payments to players, including guard Quintin Dailey, who had also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault against a woman student. Later, Tulane eliminated its hoops program because of a point-shaving scandal. Then SMU got caught so many times for recruiting and other violations that the Mustangs had to suspend their football program for a season.
At North Carolina State, where the entire campus is holding its breath while waiting for the release of a book detailing alleged wrongdoing in the Wolfpack basketball program, the administration announced the results of an internal investigation on Feb. 7. It revealed that 10 of the 12 members of the N.C. State basketball team are under academic warning and that 29 of 43 athletes who have played for Jim Valvano since he became coach in 1980 have been on such warning. Faculty senate chairman Elizabeth Suval strained mightily to find some good in these numbers. Alluding to the recent allegations that a professor had altered the grades of Wolfpack basketball players, she asked, "If we're supposedly changing grades, how come we have so many people in academic difficulty?"
The many violent acts involving college athletes are further evidence that something is terribly amiss in intercollegiate sports. As if the thuggery at Oklahoma and Colorado weren't enough to turn the stomach, here's a selection of items that have appeared on the sports pages in recent days: