University of Maryland Chancellor John B. Slaughter said Tuesday that his school will cooperate fully with a grand jury investigation into the cocaine-induced death of basketball star Len Bias. But that is only a start. It's time that Mr. Slaughter and the trustees take a long and thoughtful look at the university's whole relationship with its student athletes.
It is not this tragedy alone that requires attention, but an apparent and very troubling pattern. Maryland is by no means the only university with such problems, but each school bears its own responsibility to -- and for -- its students. It can be very simply put: if you flunk, you cannot play the game.
Five of the 12 players on the Maryland basketball team flunked out of school last semester. One was Len Bias, down 21 credits from graduating. One in 10 Maryland athletes flunks out every semester. Do these students need to face the question of what will happen if they don't do something about such records? It seems not. They simply apply for readmission and continue to play. It is all taken care of. The schedules sometimes do not even allow them to go to class. The last two academic counselors for the Maryland basketball program quit, citing these conditions.
Many Maryland officials -- for instance, basketball Coach Lefty Driesell -- insist they love their players like sons and try to protect them in a parental way. But the university must ask whether it is helping these students develop a capacity to make the right choices. If Mr. Bias had been forced to realize that the consequences of certain acts could ruin his life, would he have made his fatal mistake?
There is a history here. The university has seen former players Adrian Branch and Steve Rivers convicted of drug possession. It has watched former player John Lucas' cocaine addiction ruin his professional career. It has seen other players accused of sexual misconduct and breaking and entering. It made a lot of money on each of these players.
Athletics contribute a great deal to the life and prestige of a university. To develop fine teams is an admirable goal, but not at any cost. The people who hold the ultimate responsibilities at the University of Maryland now need to audit the price that they and, more tragically, some of their young athletes are paying. They cannot leave that to assistant deans and the athletic department. They are the ones who must insist on maintaining the values that a university is supposed to be about.