Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 60: Cut Athletic Scholarships, Reduce Number of Athletic Contests, Professors Say

A group of professors from across the United States wants to reform college athletics and expose the corruption behind college sports.

Called the National Alliance for Collegiate Athletic Reform (NAFCAR), the group set forth an ambitious platform last month that they plan to distribute to every faculty senate in the nation. The platform calls on universities to:

* Remove academic counseling for athletes from the control of athletics departments and abandon the practice of providing special academic support to athletes.

* Eliminate athletic scholarships and expand the availability of need-based aid for all students.

* Publicly disclose information about the major, advisers, and courses taken by all athletes, without revealing individual grades.

* Reduce the number of intercollegiate athletics contests.

* Stop using the term “student athlete,” and instead refer to those who participate in athletics as either students or athletes.

“‘Student athlete’ is more than a harmless phrase,” Alliance founder Jon Ericson told Clarion Call. “It distinguishes the athlete as a separate class. It perpetuates the myth of the student who participates in sports as someone special, distinctive, set aside from other students while at the same time we rail that athletics is out of control, that our culture is saturated with an obsession with sports… If we want our students who participate in sports to be normal students, we should begin by calling them students.”

The Alliance, which is composed of professors, coaches, and anyone interested in serious reform of college athletics, held its first meeting last October. According to Director Murray A. Sperber, the Alliance is fast gaining support, especially among those in the higher education community disgruntled with the NCAA’s handling of the issue. Sperber has written several books on the subject and has even performed a survey of students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The survey shows that the majority of UNC-CH students believe that college athletes should be held to the same academic standards as students. Sperber said he found those results “surprising,” especially since students at UNC hold their athletes in such high regard.

“The idea is not to punish athletes,” Sperber told Clarion Call, “but to help them.” Many athletes are locked into four-year scholarships which coaches can hold over the athlete’s head, he explained. The athlete spends an exorbitant amount of time at practice, on the road, in competition. The athlete knows that the continuance of his scholarship depends upon his performance. “This is some of the thinking behind our proposal to eliminate athletic scholarships and replace them with need-based aid.”

The problem of corruption in collegiate sports is not isolated, Sperber added, but affects other aspects of the university. Among students, it has led to what Sperber calls the “beer and circus” mentality. Student life revolves around athletic contests, especially at big-time basketball and football schools like UNC-CH. Money is being poured into athletics and research and undergraduate programs are being left behind. “It’s not fair to the students,” Sperber said.

The Alliance is not alone in its concern about athletic corruption. “Some of the issues raise in [the Alliance] are similar to issues that the NCAA leadership and Board of Directors have worried about recently,” Graham B. Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education.