Cash-Cow Hypocrisy: Higher Education Institutions Get the Gravy, Student-Athletes Get the Beans

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Cash-Cow Hypocrisy: Higher Education Institutions Get the Gravy,. Student-athletes Get the Beans

Higher education to have reached the zenith of hypocrisy regarding the treatment of young men and women who endure hard labor on its high-profile gridirons and hardwoods.

"That [educational leaders] did not rise up in righteous indignation was an evidence of conscience long calloused to dishonesty in high places regarding [commercialism in college athletics]. Here is our supreme problem -- that of honesty. Our colleges and universities are supposedly the source of our social morality and idealism. From these institutions we hurl thunderbolts at the corruptions of politics and the dishonesties of business. What right have professors and college presidents to denounce the deceits of others...while afraid to expose the evasions of their own athletics?"

These piercing words were penned almost 60 years ago by Ralph Cooper Hutchinson, then president of Pennsylvania's Washington and Jefferson College, in an essay titled, "Let's Make Football Respectable." One can only wonder at the extent to which higher education's conscience has become calloused regarding the cutthroat and exploitive realities of today's "big-time" college athletics.

Hutchinson's prescription for restoring honesty and respectability to football consisted of bringing the game "up to the moral level now maintained by professional football and baseball" by legitimizing what to that point were under-the-table subsidies to athletes. By bringing these subsidies above the table and calling them athletic scholarships, higher education appears to have reached the point where its "big-time-athletics-is-still-amateur-athletics" defense is at once logically and morally absurd.

Considering the barrage of thunderbolts hurled by academe in recent weeks at the corruptions of unscrupulous sports agents who, higher education appears to have reached the zenith of hypocrisy regarding the treatment of the young men and women who endure hard labor on its high-profile college gridirons and hardwoods.

Grounds for Anxiety

To be sure, there are good grounds for the anxiety, even the outrage, being expressed by academics and non-academics alike concerning the ever-encroaching and illicit involvement of sports agents with student-athletes. The national media, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, have recently brought the problem into sharper focus, and by all accounts the problem, like a cancer, is alive and well and metastasizing.

In an illuminating four-part series of articles devoted to the issue, The NCAA News (the association's official weekly publication) estimated that as many as 70 percent of current student-athletes in the high-profile sports of football and basketball have had contact with or have received illicit benefits from sports agents. University of Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood summed up the concern felt by many experienced college athletics officials when he was quoted as saying, "Nothing we are involved with has a greater chance of being the ruination of college athletics than this issue."

The Los Angeles Times, in its own in-depth and continuing series of related articles, reported that the NCAA was conducting an investigation into allegations that players from the University of Arizona, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, Oregon State University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Utah had received cash or other inducements from a single Southern California-based sports agent -- transactions that would clearly be in violation of NCAA rules.

These rules, which restrict athletes' employment opportunities and the value of gifts they may receive from non-family members, have always been enacted and defended, of course, in the name of preserving amateurism -- a most worthwhile goal. However, while amateurism is undoubtedly an ideal worth preserving, and while we should speak and act decisively against the exploitive tactics of unscrupulous sports agents, it is crystal clear that both the NCAA's amateur-preserving rules and academe's agents-aimed thunderbolts belie the lucrative, high-stakes realities of big-time college sports. …


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