March 1994 - Volume 12, Issue 3

Athletics vs. Academics

Welcome to the Coliseum and the Fall of Rome!

The demise of the Southwest Conference after 79 years is finally at hand. The culprit was greed in the form of television money!

It is becoming very obvious that many Presidents of education establishments are not interested in education but in only finding more dollars.

The real question should be -- What are they going to use those dollars to accomplish -- better education or just more entertainment for the yelling and screaming mobs in the Coliseums.

The vast majority of college athletic programs would operate at a loss if it was not for the TV money.

Maybe students with athletic scholarships should lose their amateur status.

I wonder why the NCAA and its schools continue the pretense of educating athletes. Why don't they admit to operating minor leagues for the professional leagues and force the professional teams to subsidize these entertainment exhibition programs and pay for the athletic scholarships. Perhaps, then institutions of higher learning could get back to educating students in something besides basket-weaving, sleeping, and developing agent relationships.

Are not schools of higher education sending the wrong message when they give a student athlete a full scholarship because he can run like the wind, or bench press 500 pounds but can not read at a 50% comprehension level?

The Southwest media have had a field day with the proposed realignment. The media often concentrate on the wrong issues. Aren't you tired of the Kerigan/Harding affair? Maybe, Margaret Thatcher was correct, "Don't we have more important things to talk about?"

When Larry Johnson did not meet the academic entrance standards at SMU and matriculated at the University of Las Vegas, did any journalist ever ask how he could afford to drive a new car every few months, or live off campus in an expensive apartment? Or did they not want to know?

Role models are important!

Coaches profess surprise when athletes are arrested for burglary, rape, or assault. Coaches even counsel their student athletes to leave school early to become a #1 pick in the professional draft. Take a close look at the antics of Michigan's Fabulous 5 and tell me that you want them to be role models for your children! Are institutions of higher education teaching values useful for an enlightened society or only catering to just plain greed and the Coliseum crowds?

Does it truly make sense for college coaches to be paid substantially more than the Presidents of their institutions and any full Professor? Although university politics are extremely vicious in these politically correct days, should not the school focus upon educating students and reduce the losses incurred in most athletic programs?

The schools dilemma -- Do they select students who can graduate and then fail the test of television ratings!

The Southwest Conference schools with the highest graduation rates for athletes, Rice University, Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University were not invited into the revised alignment by the Presidents of the Big 8 conference. Likewise, these schools also had the highest admission standards in the SWC.

Perhaps, the lack of attendance at football and basketball games cited as a reason these schools were not invited to join is just the natural result of a student body which was more thoughtful and studious.

These schools are now faced with hard choices relating to their athletic programs. Perhaps, the time has finally come to look at the role of private institutions of higher learning and the needs of society.

Educate the student's mind and alumni will give!

For years, professional fund raisers for schools have alleged that success in athletics was tied to increased alumni giving. To many alumni, that is a non-compelling argument!

Look at those institutions with the highest endowments. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale concentrate on enrolling students and not athletes and providing them with the best opportunity to expand their horizons in college. Probably the vast majority of major donors to all schools of higher education were not scholarship student-athletes.

Rather they were students. Why even some might be classified as Nerds . . . and like Bill Gates of Microsoft even fail to graduate from a non-accredited college - - Harvard.

None of the Ivy League schools have been long-term powerhouses in sports since the advent of athletic scholarships. Harvard does not even offer athletic scholarships! Some institutions like Harvey Mudd College in California only have academic scholarships and require a minimum SAT score of 1350 for admission. Yet their endowment is growing because of the success of their students.

The Ivy League schools decided to remain above the fray and the pomp and circumstance of the Coliseum. Unlike alumni at many schools who tied their giving to whether a sports team had a winning season or not, these schools concentrated on students who were winners in academics. If a Bill Bradley went to Princeton or a Calvin Hill to Yale, that was OK. However, they were educated and not given courses in physical education or correspondence courses from almost unknown institutions which allowed them to stay in school.

Grambling University prides itself on the number of its ex-students that play professional football. The Ivy League honors those that make significant contributions to society! Makes me wonder about the goals of certain institutions of higher learning. I wonder what the Big 8 considers to be worthy of recognition... perhaps, they will honor people based upon the TV ratings.

Quality always wins in the long run!

As the cost for higher education continues to escalate, these institutions must begin to provide value for the dollar cost incurred. Some educators project today's $80,000 average for a four year private institution to jump to over $250,000 in 20 years.

As costs continue up, many parents are going to have to decide whether the cost of a college education at any school is affordable. Those students without funding will find their opportunities for college becoming more difficult.

Unfair competition is the name of the game -- not only in athletics but also academics!

Some universities, i.e., Vanderbilt, Harvard, Princeton, California Institute of Technology and others, have developed programs to identify potential scholars in elementary and secondary schools. Identification and recruitment of these high potential scholars begins as early as the 7th and 8th grades. Certain schools have paid finders fees to junior high counselors to provide them with names and addresses of the top 10 freshmen students in their private schools.

High school sophomore students receiving perfect scores of 220 on the PSAT are often amazed to learn from colleges about their results before being officially notified by the testing service. In one case, a minority student received four express mail packages from different universities and three of those invited the student to attend a summer school session with all expenses paid including tuition, room/board and air fare. Moreover, each of those schools called the student and his parents on several occasions during the next few months. Talk about discrimination ...

Stake the high ground!

Nevertheless, it is true that the good students will continue to want to go to the best colleges. Moreover, the best teaching professors as opposed to those research types want to nurture, stretch and also associate with those young intelligent students.

Private schools like Rice, SMU and TCU now have a major opportunity to stake the high ground and concentrate only on getting the best students.

Without the onus of Division I competition in athletics, these schools should concentrate on increasing scholarship funds and student requirements. If the President of these schools don't shift those funds spent in recruiting student athletes into scholarship students today, the regents and trustees of those schools should immediately begin looking for a President with vision.

Schools must look at their course offerings and build upon their strengths and eliminate marginal programs that cater to educator's needs rather than the skills and needs of tomorrow's society.

Only three things are certain in life - - Death, Taxes, and Change.

The way to survival in the 21st century is through the management of change! Today, Rice, SMU and TCU have an opportunity to change their schools modus operandi and get back to becoming a true institution of higher learning and not primarily a minor league operation for professional basketball, football, tennis, and golf.

It takes Vision to be a Great University! Not Athletics!

SMU was once the major educational institution in Dallas. Oh yes, we had great basketball and football teams at SMU during the middle of this century. Legends, in fact, caused by media hype. But how many of those athletes really benefited society except as gladiators in the Coliseum for the masses to cheer and get their minds off more pressing problems.

The Consequences of Blindness to Opportunity and the Failure of Vision.

In the 1950's and early 1960's, many business, engineering and legal leaders wanted SMU to provide additional breadth and scope in course offerings and research aimed at meeting the needs of the future.

SMU was one of the first three schools in the US to have a computer (a Univac I), yet it failed to use this advantage to become one of the leading schools in computer education, training, and systems analysis. SMU's administration and the Engineering School faculty believed that courses could be televised to off site facilities and not incur significant building expansion expenses. It failed to see that those students would not have the same relationship with SMU as the on-campus students. Despite the advantages of the Co-op engineering programs which attracted many talented students to SMU, the school failed to incorporate those students into many student activities when they were on campus, thus, effectively denying them many of the interactions offered other students.

The faculty, administration and the Board of Trustee's failed to see the vision -- SMU could proclaim that it was the "Harvard of the South" but did not understand the requirements of vision it would take! Someone once said that "talk was cheap, but it took effort, dedication, perseverance and money to achieve results!"

SMU did not seek nor find the money, students or the vision to become a great institution of research and engineering during the 1960's. When SMU refused to expand the Engineering School to meet the needs of Texas Instruments, Collins Radio, LTV and other major engineering organizations throughout North Texas, Cecil Green, Eric Jonsson, and other businessmen from Dallas successfully lobbied to bring the University of Texas at Dallas into being. Also, the University of Texas at Arlington greatly expanded its engineering program and today, is considered to have one of the leading programs in robotics in the world.

Within a couple of years, internal faculty politics and the lack of funding and space also caused the Southwest Legal Foundation which had been located at SMU since its founding to pack up and move to its new home at UTD. Since then, SMU's law school national reputation for excellence has not grown measurably.

The Seductive Roar of the Coliseum!

SMU forgot that to become great, it would need to be a true institution of higher learning.

Rather it opted to worry about whether it was nationally ranked in the football and basketball polls. SMU was guilty of allowing on multiple occasions alumni and others including a former Governor of Texas and a member of the Board of Trustees to take over its athletic program and authorize under the table payments to a host of athletes in an attempt to become another Southwest Conference and national title aspirant.

When assessed the "death penalty," many believed that the school was doomed.

The Pursuit of Excellence is not Easy!

While President Pye has chosen the strategic path of making liberal arts SMU's strength, he has opted for quality. SMU has also developed unique President and University merit scholarship programs which is bringing national recognition to the school for the caliber of these student-scholars. The school has continued to increase its admission requirements and enrollment continues to increase. It might be interesting to know the growth in the average SAT score during the years since the death penalty.

The future at Rice, SMU and TCU should be built upon the quality of its students and their contributions to society rather than on whether its athletic teams are nationally ranked in some sport. Isn't it time to worry less about sports and more about educating our students to manage change in the 21st century?

It is always darkest before the dawn!

Let's face it - - the Big 8 Presidents did Rice, SMU and TCU a giant favor. In fact, they paid them a great compliment. In effect, they said that to survive the Big 8 needs TV money because they don't have the academic credentials to survive as an institution of higher learning but must cater to the Coliseum crowd roar!

The Big 8 conference has provided Rice, SMU and TCU a golden opportunity to concentrate on academics.

Let the Big 8 schools, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor provide gladiator training to those who relish the pomp and gore of the Coliseum festivities. Yes, a few athletes out of many who begin the journey will get an opportunity to participate at the professional level. While the rest will continue to receive degrees in recreation, physical education, sleep therapy, etc. and possibly suffer from major physical injuries the rest of their lives.

The real losers will be those Big 8 students and the four schools which join them seeking an education for which they are paying good money but which will be below the level of schools truly dedicated to excellence in learning!

While the real winners in this drama will be the schools which accept the opportunity and the vision of educating students of the highest caliber to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Wake up before it is too late . . . Rome fell when it concentrated on keeping the citizens going to the Coliseum to see the spectacles found there.

We must dedicate our efforts to building schools of higher education that can graduate citizens that will be able to compete with those from Japan, England, France, Germany, and other great universities throughout the world.

But then - - 'Tis Only My Opinion!

Fred Richards
March 1994

This issue of 'Tis Only My Opinion was copyrighted by Adrich Corporation in March 1994.

It is intended to provoke thinking, then dialogue among its readers. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.

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