Air Ball: American Education's Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics

Air Ball: American Education's Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics

Air Ball: American Education's Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics

Air Ball: American Education's Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics


John R. Gerdy has seen nearly every side of athletics. He is the son of a high school football coach; he was an All-American and professional basketball player and a legislative assistant for the National Collegiate Athletic Association; and he served as an associate commissioner for the Southeastern Conference.

In Air Ball: American Education's Failed Experiment with Elite Athletics, Gerdy brings all of those perspectives to argue that the American system of school and community athletics is broken. But he is no mere naysayer. He offers a bold, progressive blueprint for reforming athletics to meet our country's educational and public health needs.

Given higher education's historic role of providing leadership in our society, the initiative to restore a more sensible balance between athletics and education must begin with the reform of big-time college athletics. Despite widespread public skepticism regarding higher education's ability to change the system, Gerdy argues that the opportunity for reform has never been better. Using a provocative mix of research and thoughtful observation, he argues that, for the first time in the history of American higher education, the critical mass of people, organizations, and outside pressures necessary to drive and sustain progressive, systemic reform of the college athletic enterprise are in place.

John R. Gerdy is a visiting professor in sports administration at Ohio University. He is the author of The Successful Athletic Program: The New Standard, Sports in School: The Future of an Institution, and Sports: The All-American Addiction (University Press of Mississippi) as well as numerous articles in journals such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, NCAA News, Sporting News, and Black Issues in Higher Education.


Every reform was once a private opinion.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Each spring, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) convenes its annual meeting in Destin, Florida. The purpose of the gathering is to bring the various members of the SEC “family” together to celebrate the end of the academic year and to review, discuss, and debate conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policies, issues, and proposals.

The May 1990 meeting promised to be particularly interesting due to a significant national reform agenda that had been laid out by the NCAA's Presidents Commission. Since its inception in 1984, the Commission had aggressively pursued various reform measures, including significant increases in academic standards for athletic eligibility, the establishment of clear presidential authority in athletic matters, and an increased emphasis on more effective oversight of athletics department personnel and programs.

On the legislative agenda at the time was a series of measures designed to improve athlete welfare. This was in response to the release of an NCAA-sponsored survey . . .

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