Sports fans love talking about how they prefer college sports to their professional counterparts because of the “purity” of a system uncorrupted by the ravages of greed. Except they’re very wrong about that. While the NCAA definitely deserves accolades for the things it does right, like providing scholarships for high schoolers seeking higher education, that doesn’t mean the organization stands above valid criticism. And, with the number of scandals conflagrating across the country as a result of pursuing success at all costs, it needs to start tightening up in some areas and loosening up in others. Nothing at all says that the creation of ethical, safe, and equitable spaces for athletes and their supporters will compromise the overall quality and enjoyment of a college game. So showing some genuine concern toward the serious issues involved on NCAA campuses likely won’t yield any negative results and, in fact, just might make everything that much more gratifying.
- Title IX compliance:
The Title IX amendment of 1972 stuck to the Higher Education Act of 1965 and ensured no academic discrimination could be levied upon women, whether it be in the classroom or in extracurricular activities. Which, of course, includes sports. Despite the rapid increase of female athletes competing at the college level (456% between the 1971-1972 and 2004-2005 school years), the NCAA remains tight-fisted when it comes to distributing necessary dollars to the ladies. The 2005-2006 school year saw men’s Division I sports receive $2,192,500 in scholarship money, compared to $1,809,500 for women. Division II experienced a similar divide, with $630,700 going toward men and $477,800 going toward women. Like ESPN points out, while the NCAA is not required to spend equally, it frequently uses excuses such as “Men’s sports make more money!” to justify paying inadequate attention to female athletes.
- More heterogenous hiring and recruiting practices:
Although Title IX granted women athletes (ostensibly) equal footing on campus, the double-X crowd still only landed 554 out of the 1,774 head coaching positions for women’s sports established since 2000. Weirdly enough, prior to the passing of Title IX, a higher percentage of ladies enjoyed positions as head and assistant coaches! But the complaints of discriminatory hiring practices certainly don’t end there. Accusations of institutionalized racism and homophobia frequently crop up, with The New York Times recently reporting a steady decline in African-American coaches represented in Division I basketball. Many gay and lesbian participants complain that NCAA culture reinforces discriminatory thoughts and practices along sexuality lines and creates a hostile environment preventing many from performing to the best of their abilities.
- Quit downplaying academics:
Everyone but the most bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealists living in an opaque bubble of denial knows that sports trump academics as top priority on many Division I and II campuses. They enjoy a higher graduation rate than their peersthanks to special concessions and dispensations not awarded to anyone else (more on that later), but consistently underperform upon acceptance to their respective institutions. Research conducted at Kansas State University shows that Division I schools stand as especially notorious for recruiting student athletes based on how much money they’d pull in as opposed to how they might improve and nurture an edifying academic environment. Because of this, they enter into the classroom ill-prepared to meet the demands other students must face down. However, this trend only applies to high-profile sports such as football and basketball, with more low-profile athletes in golf, volleyball, and the like typically performing as well or better than their non-athletic peers.The NCAA passed reforms in October 2011 stating that any teams hoping to participate in postseason competition must boast an academic score of 930 or above. This will go into effect starting in the 2015-2016 season. So hopefully this indicates the organization might start slowly addressing the serious issue of athletes falling behind in mainstream courses.
- End “hidden” curricula and student “tutors”:
One way schools keep athlete grades up to minimum standards without placing them in “uncomfortable” classes involves cheating the system with a hidden curriculum. University of North Carolina’s recent brouhaha revealed some (though not all) of the tactics colleges and universities yield in the interest of banking some sweet, sweet football and basketball coin, most notably courses with only one spot available, no meeting time, no classroom, and a single semester assignment — if any. The easiest of As, in other words, and one that keeps them eligible without making them cut into precious practice time with pesky studying. Plagiarism also runs rampant, and frequently goes overlooked if practiced by a student athlete, despite every school explicitly making clear its disciplinary measures against the offense. In addition, some colleges and universities hire “tutors” for their teams, but their responsibilities involve more than just helping them better understand class material. Like writing their papers for them, for example. UNC might be the school on everyone’s minds right now, but they’re hardly the only ones sticking to these deplorable practices. All the NCAA needs to do is further alter its academic requirements to require student athletes to rack up credits in the same classes as everyone else. And, of course, actually enforce the restriction.
- Keep recruiting tactics legal:
Some of the shadier booster clubs at Division I and II colleges don’t mind breaking the law when it comes to snagging the promising high schoolers who will lead their favorite teams to victory. And money, of course. One of the most notorious incidents involved University of Miami’s football program, where exorbitantly wealthy patrons lured potential players with prostitutes and money in exchange for injuring the opposition. At University of Colorado, University of Tennessee, University of Texas, University of Alabama, and Arizona State University, conventionally attractive female students known as “hostesses” are often coerced into “entertaining” both recruits and players alike, with the expectation being that they provide sexual services to keep them from drifting toward other programs. When the women aren’t enough, drugs and alcohol (for minors, anyway) only enhance the deal. Not only is this against NCAA regulations, it’s against the law. But the organization’s negligence at policing these crimes means the issues swell to disconcerting proportions, to the point scandals break out and further damage its reputation. A little diligence and cooperating with the law is all it takes to protect the safety of female students and fight the culture of athlete entitlement.
- Stop the bribes and incentives:
The most common illegal college athletics recruiting practices further break down into two common types, those involving fiscal and material bribes and those involving sexual bribes that — tragically — have led to rape and sexual assault (more on the latter later). Boosters, recruiters, and agents all thumb their noses at NCAA regulations and make amateur players into professionals before graduation. University of Miami’s boosters may have offered up fancy dinners, nightclubs, jewelry, and yacht trips along with its coterie of prostitutes, but other schools have even topped that. While still at Ohio State, New York Jets’ Santonio Holmes allegedly enjoyed himself a complimentary house, courtesy of Josh Luchs.Beyond bribery as a recruitment tool, it also rears its head in college sports when gambling, betting on, and fixing games are all involved. University of San Diego’s basketball team saw three of its current and former participants — two players and one assistant coach — charged with running a betting operation intending to artificially change the outcome of games. Then-active player Brandon Johnson accepted money from ex-assistant coach Thaddeus Brown and ex-player Brandon Dowdy in exchange for manipulating the eventual score. Kudos to the NCAA for stepping in and helping to end this instance of sports betting, but it seriously needs to play a more proactive role in making sure players select colleges based on legal and ethical recruiting practices.
- Rape and sexual assault prevention:
Easily the most egregious side effect of employing prostitutes and “hostesses” to entice potential and active players involves establishing a patriarchal culture of male entitlement permitting rape and sexual assault to take place. No matter their profession or sexual peccadilloes, sexual violence survivors absolutely do not “have it coming.” Ever. Just because a woman volunteers to take on a “hostess” role for money or for school spirit reasons doesn’t mean she “owes” any of the athletes her body. But even ladies serving outside these capacities find themselves victimized by student athletes — and subjected to the very same stigmas levied against the ones who participate in “hostess” programs. Allegations of male athletes raping and sexual assaulting female classmates frequently scandalize the news, with two Boston University ice hockey players arrested within 10 weeks of each other in 2011 and 2012. At least in those instances, the victims saw their attackers brought to justice. Many (if not most) survivors aren’t so lucky, watching their assailants continue to enjoy free electronics and designer watchesand even professional contracts while they receive sneers and allegations of “faking it for attention/revenge because he doesn’t love you” or something similarly marginalizing and shaming.Rutgers University offers a video specifically targeting the culture of student athletics that breeds this sort of horrific behavior, but it’s time the NCAA brought the message to a broader audience. Address the frequently blown off (not to mention illegal) issue of athletes committing sexual atrocities with required education in rape and sexual assault. What it is. Why it happens. How to prevent it. And why “bros” shouldn’t come before “hoes” when it comes to reporting incidents.
- Work with watchdog groups:
Rutgers 100, The Drake Group, League of Fans, Americans United for a Better NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Pool, and other watchdog groups keep an eye on the ethics, integrity, and legalities of amateur and professional sports organizations alike. Unsurprisingly, boosters just adore harassing them, as chronicled in Rutgers 100 founder William C. Downing’s Confessions of a Spoilsport (itself a fascinating read containing even more astounding affronts in the name of promoting college athletics). He even received a few death threats for daring to keep the school’s sports programs as scandal-free as possible! The NCAA undoubtedly does some things right, but it also — as this article and others like it point out — fails to address some very critical problems. No organization should be above public scrutiny, particularly when it comes to safety and staying within the law. If boosters and the NCAA want to catch serious issues before they blow up (or, better yet, prevent them in the first place), cooperation and transparency work far, far more effectively than declaring some sort of silly social warfare. Legitimate concerns, like academics, sexual violence prevention, bribery and gambling, and true equality, all deserve addressing. Rather than foot-dragging and unconvincing excuses, trying a little diplomacy and hearing out their concerns might prove far more beneficial to all parties involved than sticking with the current broken, corrupt system.
- Drug testing:
As if getting away with cheating and raping weren’t enough of a reason to start begging the NCAA for tighter policing of its own rules, Division I and II institutions also seem to take pains to help out their student athletes who test positive for one or more substance on the banned list. As with the case at Syracuse, merely not mentioning proven substance use and abuse proved the “best” strategy for keeping players churning out money for the school. As part of the Big East Conference, the regulations do not require schools to disclose who passes or fails drug tests. And the NCAA still accepts applicants without a broad, overarching illicit substance policy, though it does possess its own. Syracuse itself, however, possesses internal regulations, meaning, should the allegations prove true, the involved players and staff stood in direct violation and deserve the requisite punishment.Regardless of one’s attitudes toward smokables, snortables, injectables, and swallowables, the fact remains that they’re still illegal and the NCAA still holds explicit rules against them. Even when arrests take place, everyone seems to let athletes off with little more than a shrug and the occasional wrist-slapping suspension, though students outside sports programs are left to suffer any academic or social consequences of their actions. Once again, negligence regarding accountability and special treatment for no reason other than physical prowess means nursing a subculture believing itself entirely above the same ethical standards levied onto everyone else. The NCAA needs a smoother policy uniform across conferences and needs to take a more active role in making sure players aren’t ingesting anything that might grant them an unfair advantage on the field or court.
- Hold athletic participants to the same behavior standards as other students, faculty, and staff:
Special treatment for anyone involved in the athletics program is ostensibly against NCAA rules, but colleges and universities perpetually disregard these statutes, and the regulatory organization really doesn’t seem to mind at all. If Jerry Sandusky received a Penn State salary for teaching math or art or business, would his superiors, faculty, staff and students have rallied behind him so passionately despite his terrifying (and proven!) sexual predation of children? Probably not. Anyone involved in high-profile athletics, particularly star coaches and players, ascends to celebrity status on campus, which heavily compromises the supposed academic goals of higher education. Students and their faculty supporters concerned with this phenomenon (here’s an example from Penn State, again) believe it to create a completely unfair atmosphere where nobody receives judgment on the strength of their character, but rather their athletic acumen and how much money they pull in from corporate sponsors.An honest, straight-A student who screws up once receives a higher punishment than a football player caught breaking NCAA rules — or even the law, in other words. It’s a fair complaint, and one that can be eliminated over time if the powers that be start chipping away at entitlement culture and move towards something more ethical, responsible, and accountability-based. Making sure actions violating the regulations in place receive appropriate consequences will ensure a safer, more equitable athletic experience for all. If it’s supposed to be all about the genuine love of physical competition and providing potential professional opportunities for promising youngsters, the quality of games definitely won’t suffer as a result. In fact, they might actually improve as the involved parties improve their sense of discipline and inclusivity!