The college football season is at midterm now, and is proving to be an exciting one in Utah. It may not be a time to ask questions about the value of college sports in our society. It may also be unfair to ask questions based on recent and recurring news reports from the sporting world, because it is difficult to get ink on the individual and personal victories, while problems involving drugs, player behavior and academic standards get plenty of publicity.
We don't read of the student who would have been denied any college education had he not been motivated to attend college to support his football habit. Little is heard of the student athlete who becomes an educated participant in society because a college sports program paid for an education.We also read little about the self-policing that goes on in athletic programs like the one at the University of Maryland at College Park, which will begin basketball practice five days late as a self-imposed penalty because its coach, Gary Williams, watched team members play in pickup games before the official start of the 1989-90 season.
Other self-policing efforts that have received some publicity include the following:
- There are currently 28 college and university programs under sanctions from the NCAA.
- College presidents from the Southwest Conference have voted to prohibit ineligible athletes from all participation. The claim is that the rule would make the academic standards of the conference as stringent as any in the United States.
- The regents of the Oklahoma Higher Education System have proposed that a 2.0 grade point average be required for students in all college-sponsored extracurricular activities, including athletics.
Nevertheless, many people oppose the Oklahoma plan to raise academic standards despite the fact that in May 1989 Dexter Manley, testifying before a congressional committee as a former Oklahoma State football player, said he was illiterate despite four years of college.
Thomas Hill, the academic adviser to the athletes at Oklahoma, has been quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education as saying that roughly 20 to 25 percent of Oklahoma's athletes might be sidelined by the 2.0 rule. He says it would hurt to have standards so much higher than the colleges they compete against.
The Oklahoma proposal even became an issue in the recent election for governor. After surviving primaries where football eligibility was an issue, both candidates for governor supported the new rule.
But perhaps the current issue that really gives pause when considering the role of athletics in our society is, in the words of the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, "deja vu all over again."
Cornell was the top-ranked football team in the nation 50 years ago. In a game against Clemson, Cornell's team won 7 to 3 on an extra down. After viewing the game film, Cornell's president, Edmund Ezra Day, forfeited the game, saying it had not been won fairly. The final score was thus 3-0 for Dartmouth, and Cornell fell from the No. 1 spot.
This month's game between the University of Missouri and the University of Colorado at Boulder was also decided on a fifth-down play. The mistake was discovered after the game, the game officials were suspended and the Big Eight Conference then refused to reverse the outcome of the game. The score stands at 33 to 31, and there is no indication that Colorado will give the unfairly won game away.
Perhaps it is time to put college sports in perspective. It seems that the bottom line could well be that colleges are places to learn and to push back the frontiers of knowledge. But as relief from this effort to learn, these colleges sometimes play games . . . for big money.- Roger Baker is associate professor of English/education at Snow College. Comments or questions about "Learning Matters" may be addressed to him in care of the English Department, Snow College, Ephraim, UT 84626