The president of the Washington-based American Council on Education says big-time college athletics has "a major set of systemic problems" that must be corrected if the nation's colleges and universities "are serious about restoring public confidence in intercollegiate athletics."
In an address prepared to be delivered at the second national forum during the NCAA convention Monday in Nashville, ACE President Robert Atwell said efforts to keep the top-drawer football and basketball programs "free of scandal are being overpowered not by the forces of evil but by economic and social forces much more potent than any of us realize."
Atwell said the underlying causes of the problems include: an overemphasis on winning "at the expense of other values;" more concern and emphasis on spectator sports and their facilities than participation in and better facilities for lifelong fitness sports; a tolerance for academic compromises "that stem from the economic and social pressures," and "a thoroughly perverse tendency . . . to suggest a link between athletic accomplishments and institutional quality or prestige."
To correct the system, Atwell, a national leader in bringing about NCAA Proposition 48 and the establishment of the reform-minded NCAA Presidents Commission, proposes a six-point plan for reform, notably "to break the insidious connection between money and winning:"
More revenue sharing in football and, especially, the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament. Atwell says that the effect of the free market for football television since the Georgia and Oklahoma lawsuit broke the NCAA monopoly "is to concentrate the television income on even fewer institutions." He would like to see NCAA basketball tournament receipts split evenly among approximately all 300 Division I schools.
Cut the length of the season, especially in basketball and baseball. Atwell terms a basketball season beginning on Oct. 15, when practice starts, and continuing through early April, when the championship is decided, "an academic travesty." He prefers a season such as Georgetown University President Timothy Healy has proposed: no games before Christmas, none after March 15.
Eliminate self-supporting athletic programs by giving institutional subsidies. "If athletics is so important to the institutions with big-time programs, then the programs deserve better than being regarded as self-supporting 'auxiliary enterprises,' " Atwell suggests.
Eliminate athletic scholarships and rely entirely on need-based aid with athletes treated the same as other students. "I am aware of the argument that athletes generate so much income and spend so many hours in practice and competition that they should be rewarded for their effort," Atwell says. "But if we are serious about the amateur model the commercial argument holds no water; and if we are not serious about the amateur model, the 'wages' should be considerably higher in many cases."
Eliminate freshman eligibility in football and basketball, severely limit or eliminate practice time for freshmen and eliminate all freshman and junior varsity teams -- "students should become academically established before participating."Give coaches long-term contracts for job security, but make them adhere to a code of conduct "which befits a representative of an institution of higher learning." Coaches, he says, need "to stress the supremacy of education over athletic participation."
Atwell says making such reforms "calls for both courage and political organization at all three levels: the institution, the conference and the NCAA." Atwell praises the Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Atlantic Coast Conference presidents and chancellors for their leadership.
Atwell will be one of four primary speakers at the forum, the highlight of this annual convention, with no major reforms or especially controversial issues among the 163 agenda items to be considered at business sessions Tuesday and Wednesday.
The other main forum speakers will be Christopher C. Fordham III, chancellor, UNC-Chapel Hill; Thomas J. Fredricks, vice president and director of athletics, University of Dayton, and currrent NCAA secretary-treasurer; Mitchell H. Raiborn, professor of accounting at Bradley University and author of NCAA studies on revenues and expenses in college athletics, and Neal H. Pilson, president of CBS Sports.
Five respondents to the speakers' views will include Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson.