Taking Hypocrisy to a New Level

Phillip Marshall has major problems with NCAA president Myles Brand and his "reform" movement for college athletics.

Make no mistake about it. College athletics as we know it is under attack.

NCAA president Myles Brand and his band of "reformers" take hypocrisy to a new level. In their eyes, if something bad happens one place, it must be happening everywhere. Now Congress is weighing in, and that is almost always bad news for anyone who is interested in truth and rational thought.

The ongoing scandal at Colorado, in which seven women have claimed they were sexually assaulted during recruiting visits, will dramatically change the way athletes are recruited. Strict academic requirements that punish schools that don't meet a new set of criteria are going into effect.

Those changes, standing alone, aren't bad. Recruits shouldn't be provided with alcohol or sex in an organized fashion like apparently happened at Colorado. There is no reason they should be entertained lavishly. College athletes ought to be legitimate students.

But guess what? It doesn't happen most places like it did at Colorado. Most programs keep recruiting visit activities under control. Most athletes are, in fact, legitimate students. At most universities, the graduation rate for student-athletes is higher than that of incoming freshmen as a whole. But Brand and his pals aren't going to tell you that. They are too busy wringing their hands and hoping they impress the Knight Commission.

Brand makes more than $700,000 a year as NCAA president. The NCAA sold its basketball tournament to CBS for more than $1 billion. Brand doesn't want college athletics to be big business, yet he oversees the organization that makes it a big business. Maybe he should consider making a statement by cutting his own salary.

Want to hear something scary? Listen to former Congressman and Maryland basketball player Tom McMillen:

"The legislation I introduced in '91 would have taken all the money in college sports, put it in one pot and had the presidents control that pot," McMillen told The Indianapolis Star. "It would have been distributed to schools, not based on winning and losing, but on gender equity, breadth of programs, graduation rates. And if schools wanted to opt out of that system, let them be taxed like taxable businesses."

I can just see Brand nodding enthusiastically at that idea.

The House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection held hearings into NCAA recruiting practices last Tuesday. Obviously, someone decided it would be politically popular to do so. That's reason things usually happen in our nation's capital. Wally Renfroe, representing the NCAA, assured Congressmen that great reforms are coming.

I wish some of those folks would spend a few days around a big-time college athletic program. They'd see some things that could use changing, but they would also see a lot of dedicated people working very hard. They'd see student-athletes working with determination and dedication at their games and at their schoolwork. They'd see a lot of coaches, administrators and support people who, believe it or not, really do care about those young men and women.

Do they all want to win? Absolutely. Is something wrong with that?

In Brand's world, college athletics would be a nice, extracurricular activity in which winning would be only a by product, not a goal. In Brand's world, you'd read no stories about young men and women from poor family and educational backgrounds who overcame the odds to earn college degrees. Those people wouldn't be invited to the party in the first place.

There are serious issues in college athletics. Yes, there are cheaters and scoundrels. Yes, there are academic abuses. Those things need to be dealt with, but not by tearing down the entire enterprise.

If the NCAA wants to make meaningful reform, it should start in Indianapolis, where its own offices are. The enforcement process is a joke, and will itself be the subject of Congressional hearings later this summer. Decisions are rarely made with the true interests of student-athletes at heart.

Maybe Brand and the Knight Commission represent the wishes of a majority who don't have the courage to stand up and be heard. Maybe giving young men and women opportunities to overcome adversity, to perform at a high level, is a bad thing.

But I don't think so.

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