Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

National Collegiate Academic Association? the Implications of Increased NCAA Oversight of Academics

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

National Collegiate Academic Association? the Implications of Increased NCAA Oversight of Academics

Article excerpt


In recent years, the pre-eminent overseer of intercollegiate athletics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), has endured elevated levels of scrutiny from the public, media, former NCAA student-athletes, and other stakeholders (Wolken, 2013). Despite a multitude of controversial issues surrounding the NCAA, one particular concern that has attracted considerable attention is its treatment of academic fraud on its member campuses (Patterson, 2015). The NCAA has taken varied approaches to addressing academic violations at institutions such as the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) and Syracuse University, and is believed to be currently investigating academic violations at 20 member schools, 18 of which are in Division I (DI) (Patterson, 2015). Considering the NCAA's heavy involvement in regulating the athletics landscape across more than 1,200 institutions in the U.S., what level of responsibility should the NCAA share in ensuring that athletes are receiving a quality education?

Instances of academic fraud, such as the recently publicized events at UNC, comprise just one facet of a much larger and alarming problem - the deteriorating balance between a student-athlete's engagement in academics and his or her participation in intercollegiate athletics. This problem surfaces in a variety of forms. As Gurney and Willingham (2014) note, it is not uncommon for some institutions to work to admit student-athletes who are unprepared for the rigors of higher education in an attempt to take advantage of their athletic ability. This practice has a snowballing effect as these institutions must continually provide resources to help the struggling student-athletes keep their grades above the threshold to maintain eligibility for athletic competition (Gurney & Willingham, 2014). In most cases, the effort involves a bona fide attempt by institutional administrators to assist deficient studentathletes in becoming prepared to produce college-level work and to ultimately benefit from their access to a college education. However, in other instances, the system is manipulated to allow these student-athletes to obtain sufficient grades without expending the necessary effort necessary to achieve them. This may involve practices such as clustering, in which studentathletes are routed toward certain majors or classes that are deemed to be "easy" or with professors who are believed to be flexible with their evaluations. In other more severe cases, more extensive forms of fraud are developed in the interest of prioritizing athletic performance over academic integrity at some institutions (Gurney & Willingham, 2014). Given the critical nature of this issue, the following questions are posed for further discussion: First, what is the expectation of the NCAA in academic governance on its member campuses? Second, what options does the NCAA have if forced to interject in the academic proceedings on campus? Lastly, if increased involvement in academic governance by the NCAA is not a feasible solution, what actions (if any) should the NCAA take to address this ongoing problem?

Background - Academic Fraud at UNC

The NCAA is certainly no stranger to academic impropriety occurring on the campuses on its member institutions (Powers, 2007), as such incidents have been surfacing since the turn of the century (Covell & Barr, 2010). At UNC, it was discovered that, over a period of 18 years from 1993 to 2011 (Wainstein, Jay, & Kukowski, 2014), a long-time administrator in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM), in collaboration with the Chair of the Department, created and implemented what were referred to as "paper classes." In these paper classes, students would write a single research paper for their course grade, with class attendance and other typical course-related obligations absent from the curriculum (Wainstein et al., 2014).

Exacerbating the problem with these paper classes was the lack of faculty oversight of student work, and similar lack of interaction between students and the instructor of record. …

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