I'm on Pat Ewing's side. At first, the grocery list of academic demands bothered me. Now the list is why i'm rooting for him. Too often high school kids go to the college whose boosters give them the most spending money. Here is Pat Ewing, a 7-foot wonder of nature, a young man who could become a good professional player, and all he asks is that a college help him get an education.
On first reading, the list seems to be its own argument against Ewing being a student in any university.
As drawn up by his high school coach and a family friend, the list told colleges that Ewing needed lots of academic help: daily tutoring that "must include covering reading material . . . proofreading of papers and help with construction of papers," permission to use a tape recorder for lectures, and untimed testing (Pat's slowness in writing does not give him ample opportunity to express himself," the list said).
He doesn't want a Cadillac from a booster, he want a degree that means something.
"The Ewing family, Pat, and all those concerned are interested in a positive educational experience, a diploma, and the necessary skills that are needed after graduation," said a footnote to the list.
At its worst, college athletics shows our universities to be hypocritical in their public demands for wholesomeness. Not only do colleges condone cheating as long as their teams win, school presidents look the other way when athletic programs exploit players by keeping them eligible without helping them graduate.
But at its best, and its best is wonderful, the college game is proof given flesh that our universities want nothing less than to transform potential into excellance.
If a short, fat kid with mediocre grades asked Georgetown to admit him and then give him daily tutoring of extraordinary scope because he really wanted a degree, the admissions people would tell him to try a night school somewhere in downtown Newark.
Pat Ewing, though, is a special case illustrative of the two masters college athletics must serve. The college game is both entertainment and education. No other sports program from high school to the pros operates under such a heavy burden of expection. Not only do we expect show business from the colleges, we want the shows to star young men and women who are getting their degrees.
Because Pat Ewing is a 7-foot basketball player of grace and skill, he will meet the demands by the folks at Georgetown that he be entertaining. Just as the university would be made a better place by the presence of a violin prodigy, so will it be enriched by Ewing, whose own excellence is no less beautiful for being more sweaty.
I wouldn't say that if I thought Ewing was one of the pituitary mercenaries selling his work to an outlaw basketball factory whose only aim was to win a single game in next year's NCAA Tournament (one such victory is likely ot be worth $240,000).
Certainly, Ewing did not choose Georgetown because of its school for strategic studies; he chose it to become a better player under Thompson, a 6-foot-10 former pro whose teams are models of selflessness and combativeness. Hammerin' Hank Kissinger is okay, but Ewing is built more for the kind of work done by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Yet I think Ewing, as his list shows, wants to be a student, even if it means admitting to an inquisitive public that he needs special help.
Georgetown is willing to give that help, and I am glad because if our university basketball and football teams are expected to be both entertainment and education, it is not only nice but necessary that good schools take extraordinary steps in extraordinary cases. By opening its doors to Ewing, Georgetown has demonstrated that it is willing to accept the heavy burden of the college game's two expections.
So the pressure will be on Georgetown in more ways than one. Thompson's basketball team will be expected to win lots of games. And the university will be expected to help a determined young man -- "He's a fine kid and a plugger," Thompson said of Ewing -- make it through four years of study at one of America's great colleges.
Only if Georgetown fails in that second mission is it guilty of the colleges' most grievous sin, exploitation.
Several proud groves of academe would have taken Ewing into their shade. North Carolina, Boston College, UCLA, Boston University and Villanova were the other five schools finally considered by Ewing. Michigan State said it didn't care if Ewing tape-recorded lectures, and Marquette said some players were allowed untimed tests in over half their courses.
Thompson won't say if Georgetown agreed to any of the specifications on the Ewing list. "What Pat Ewing is getting at Georgetown is no different from what any other student who needs help at Georgetown would get," the coach told The Post's Michael Wilbon and Leonard Shapiro. "This kid has never asked us for one thing -- not even a soda."
Even if Georgetown gives Ewing two tutors a day, I'm still rooting for him because I think this is a special case of a good school trying to do the right thing in the right way. With the two masters of entertainment and education demanding equal obeisance, Georgetown also has a special obligation to Ewing. For his help in satisfying the hunger of the devouring animal called fame, Ewing gets help in his need for an education.
Nice deal all around.
"John Thompson is the best concerning education," Dean Smith of North Carolina told the Ewing people, according to notes taken by Ewing's high school assistant coach and reported in Inside Sports magazine. "We can't do it as well as he," Smith said, "but we are second."
Thompson keeps a deflated basketball in his office. The message to his players is simple: when the ball doesn't bounce anymore, what will you do in life? Now Thompson's philosophy gets its sternest, and most public test, and everyone who cares about the college game will be watching the process of Pat Ewing, both on the court and off.
Watching, and rooting.