Following in the footsteps of the Knight Commission, the 22-member panel that urged college presidents to take control of runaway athletic programs (SCORECARD, April 1), a regional association that accredits colleges and universities has proposed scrutinizing athletics just as it does academics. Should the 800 members of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ratify the proposal in December, schools throughout the Southeast could lose their accreditation if their athletic departments are not up to snuff. This would mean that, at least, the flow of federal aid to students would be cut off, and, at most, the institution would be rendered academically bankrupt.
"In the past, there has been a perfunctory kind of review of the athletic program [during the accreditation process]," says Ron Carrier, president of James Madison University and chairman of the committee that recommended the proposal to the association. "Now there will be someone on the team whose sole assignment will be to review athletics." That investigator will look at an athletic department's finances, admissions practices and treatment of athletes.
That an accrediting body would demonstrate such concern about athletics is a measure of how alarming the abuses in college sports have become. However, it's questionable whether the association's proposal will have much impact. Schools seldom lose their accreditation for any reason, and it's doubtful any institution would suffer that fate for even the most egregious athletic wrongdoing. That's too bad, because when it comes to policing college sports, the NCAA the organization now charged with that task, needs all the help it can get.