Education

High Schools Urged To Assist in Reform Of Collegiate Sports

By Mark Pitsch — March 27, 1991 6 min read

Eligibility for athletic participation be limited to four years, but that academic eligibility be increased to five years.

The report noted that many high-school athletic programs are beginning to “emulate the worst features” of college programs by emphasizing athletic and financial results at the expense of the educational value of sport.

To help combat the problem, the commission urged secondary-school officials “to encourage high-school athletes to spend as much time preparing themselves academically as they do preparing athletically.”

“We suggest that you guide them toward institutions that will put their welfare as students and their maturation as young adults ahead of their performance as athletes,” added the report, “Keeping Faith With the Student-Athlete: A New Model for Intercollegiate Athletics.”

Among its other recommendations, the commission proposed that academic standards for incoming college freshmen be raised.

By 1995, the commission proposed, student-athletes should complete 15 units of high-school academic work with a 2.0 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) in order to be eligible to play in their first year. That contrasts with the 11 units currently required under the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s eligibility rule, Proposition 48.

The 47-page report is the culmination of more than 18 months of study by the 22-member commission. The panel’s work was paid for by a $2-million grant from the Knight Foundation.

The commission was headed by the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, a former president of Notre Dame University, and William C. Friday, a former president of the North Carolina state university system. Its members included Lamar Alexander, the former president of the University of Tennessee who was sworn in last Friday as Education Secretary, and Richard D. Schultz, president of the NCAA

Misplaced Values

At a news conference held to release their report, commission members repeatedly cited their concern that, all too often, high-profile college sports serve financial, television, and alumni interests first and fail to assist student-athletes in their educational efforts.

In far too many cases, the report stated, “the educational context for collegiate athletics competition is pushed aside.”

Such problems, the commission said, “are grounded in institutional indifference, presidential neglect, and the growing commercialization of sport, combined with the urge to win at all costs.”

As evidence of the misplaced values in intercollegiate athletics, the commission noted that:

High-pressure tactics are used to recruit high-school athletes, only a small fraction of whom will eventually succeed in competition on the collegiate level.

One-half of the 106 colleges and universities with the most competitive and expensive football programs were sanctioned by the NCAA during the 1980’s.

Schools admit athletes who have been deemed as unlikely to graduate, and the graduation rate for student-athletes, particularly those who play football and basketball, is far below that for the student population as a whole.

To remedy the situation, the commission concluded, top university officials must assume responsibility for their schools’ athletic departments and the revenues they raise in order to prevent further abuses.

In calling for a “one-plus-three” model, the commission said university presidents must control three key aspects of college athletics--academic integrity, financial management, and independent certification.

Schools that fail to adopt the commission’s recommendations will be forced to compete in “an outlaw league for illiterate athletes,” Father Hesburgh said.

The commission urged university presidents, trustees, and boosters to voluntarily accept the report’s recommendations before the federal government intervenes.

Representative Tom McMillen, Democrat of Maryland, already is preparing legislation to require many of the recommended changes.

Emulating the Worst Features

While the report’s findings concentrated on collegiate athletics, the commission noted that a number of problems seen at the college level can be found in the high schools.

“We sense that some secondary-school programs now emulate the worst features of too many collegiate programs,” it stated.

Such problems, the commission said, include “recruiting abuses, permitting athletics to interfere with college preparation, standing by as coaches enter into shoe contracts, permitting the time demands for team travel to grow beyond reason, and pursuing television exposure and national rankings with the same passion as colleges and universities.’'

Donna E. Shalala, a commission member and the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, said the report is relevant to education-reform efforts on both the secondary- and higher-education levels.

“It reaches right down into the high schools and talks about academic preparation,” Ms. Shalala said. “It has a lot more to do with education reform and reforming higher education than it does with reforming college athletics.”

Larry Hawkins, president of the Institute for Athletics and Education at the University of Chicago, said that he had not seen the report, but that the institute promotes the use of precollegiate sport in the context of education and the development of social skills, perseverance, and cooperation.

When athletics strays from those concepts and toward the idea of winning at all costs, young student-athletes do not derive the full benefit of sport, Mr. Hawkins said.

“At the elementary and secondary levels, it should be the kid playing to do the best he or she can,” he said. “The sport is not you. You are you, and the sport is something you do.”

Mr. Friday, one of the panel’s co-chairmen, suggested in an interview that secondary-school officials create a body similar to the commission to study athletics on that level.

But Brice Durbin, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, rejected that idea, saying that each state sets different standards for its high-school athletes and handles eligibility questions differently.

The report does not address eligibility standards for participation in high-school athletics. But Mr. Durbin said his organization would oppose such a movement.

He noted that only 7 percent of high-school football players and 5 percent of high-school basketball players go on to play those sports in college.

If the commission’s recommendations are adopted by the top academic and athletic schools over the next several months and years, high-school athletes who plan to continue playing in college can expect several changes.

The commission suggested that:

Athletic scholarships include the full cost of attending college, including transportation costs, entertainment, and personal expenses as determined by federal financial-aid rules.

High-school students not be eligible for reimbursed campus visits or for signing letters of intent until the colleges’ admissions offices determine that the students are candidates to complete degrees.

Junior-college transfers meet the same admissions requirements as other transfers.

The NCAA study the conditions under which schools admit student-athletes.

Incoming freshmen who have signed letters of intent be able to transfer to other schools if the coaches who recruited them leave. The schools to which the coaches went should not be eligible to receive the students, the panel said.

Eligibility for athletic participation be limited to four years, but that academic eligibility be increased to five years.

A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 1991 edition of Education Week as High Schools Urged To Assist in Reform Of Collegiate Sports

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