By Doug Lederman. Doug Lederman covers college athletics .
The Christian Science Monitor
AS the American public grows increasingly skeptical about the integrity of big-time intercollegiate sports, college officials, commentators in the media, and even members of Congress are talking about "reforming" big-time college sports. They recite a litany of concerns: the poor academic progress of athletes, the rapidly escalating expenses of sports programs, and the seemingly endless string of rulebreaking. These are serious and vexing problems.
Amid all the discussion about reform, however, little attention has been paid to actually "rethinking" the system of American college athletics. Few, if any, of today's would-be reformers ask the toughest of questions about big-time college sports, either because they consider the system unalterable or because they think raising the issues can only get them in hot water.
The editors of this collection of essays, bound neither by the restraints of practicality nor by the threat of losing their jobs for speaking out, ask the tough questions plainly in the book's introduction: "On the one hand, why do colleges keep these programs? On the other, should colleges keep them?" Sixteen academics from a range of disciplines tackle these issues. Some of the essays are too abstract to interest any but the most academic of readers, and others, including those in a section on drug testing of athletes, cover too narrow a subject. The result is an intriguing but meandering look at the issues.
Most of the essayists defend the inherent value of sports for athlete and spectator alike and praise the educational role that athletics can play. But most of them also conclude that the idealized view of sports is distant from what really is happening now.
For example, Robert L. Simon, a professor and chair of the philosophy department at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., argues that an intercollegiate athletics program can contribute to a university by providing a showcase for excellence and by helping to build a sense of community. But Simon also writes: "Surely it is indefensible for the very institution charged with keeping standards of truth and excellence before our minds to cheat in order to win ballgames or to merely use athletes to achieve fame and fortune, ignoring the educational goals it is supposed to protect. …