At All Costs: Universities Often Talk about Ending the Out-of-Control Arms Race of College Sports, but This Time, in the Wake of Horrific Scandals, They May Really Do It

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Sex, drugs, alcohol, fraud, payoffs ... We might be talking about an episode of the Sopranos, but we're not. This story is about sports--amateur sports at that. When word came out a few months ago that federal lawsuits had been filed by three women who said they were raped by University of Colorado football players (see "CU, Wouldn't Want to Be You," p. 43), the world reacted with horror. But Bob Eno, a history professor at Indiana University and a member of the steering committee for the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, says many in the academic world were less surprised. "We could have predicted that these sorts of events would occur and are occurring."

The COIA (www.math.umd.edu/~jmc/COIA/COIA-Home.htm) is a college sports reform group that includes faculty senates from the six athletics conferences forming the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the Association of Governing Boards of Universities & Colleges, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). "There are many pressures on schools when it comes to recruitment because so much now hangs on winning, aside from just competing," says Eno. "Now there are so many financial issues tied up with the winning team. The stakes have risen to the point where some programs are willing to go way out of bounds to increase their leverage to win and fill the seats at football stadiums."

On the heels of numerous recent scandals, the higher education world is finally (again) examining the role of athletics in academia. And every time a new scandal erupts, we are shocked--shocked--that such things go on within the halls of academia. Ah, but there's the rub: In many schools, and especially those with a proclivity to horrific headlines, the athletics department is acting as an autonomous fiefdom.

Let's be clear, right up front, that we are talking about a fraction of the athletics programs at colleges and universities around the country. No one wishes to denigrate the accomplishments or contributions that have been made by well-run athletics departments. Still, on a recent ABC Nightline program dealing with the Colorado scandal host Ted Koppel noted that his program had covered similar ground 14 years earlier, yet little has changed. Consider this list (sadly, incomplete) of recent college sports scandals:

Last August, Baylor University (TX) basketball coach Dave Bliss resigned after trying to cover up illegal payments to players, including to a player who was murdered by a teammate. Bliss allegedly spread rumors that the murdered player dealt drugs. Under Bliss, players received meals, lodging, transportation, and clothing in violation of NCAA rules. The basketball staff sometimes paid for athletes' lodging, and players also received free airline and taxi transportation. Bliss also solicited donations from Baylor basketball boosters to support a summer basketball league that involved prospective players, in violation of NCAA rules.

A University of Miami football recruit was arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges during a school-sponsored recruiting trip earlier this year. The player had a record of 10 prior arrests that the university didn't know about when it signed him.

Brigham Young University (UT) leveled harsh punishment against six football players following an off-campus party in January 2004, also attended by recruits. Alcohol was served during the party, in direct violation of the school's honor code, and at least one player engaged in sex with a female athlete. The young woman and one player have since withdrawn from the school while the others have been suspended or placed on probation.

A forgery scheme was planned last year, in order to enable an imposter to take the SAT for a player being recruited by the University of Georgia. The investigation of that scheme also revealed that former U Georgia Assistant Men's Basketball Coach Jim Harrick gave $300 to a friend of prospective player Tony Cole for Cole's expenses, violating NCAA ethics rules. …