The recent intramural fracas between players from the University of Kansas football and basketball teams can no longer be considered an isolated incident, nor can it be dismissed as a product of raging hormones and male marking of territory. Nor is the ill-advised posting of a Facebook account of the brawl and resulting injury by one of the KU athletes brushed off – we can be reasonably certain the player was chastised for broadcasting his foolishness nationwide.
The obligatory regrets and apologies have been issued by KU's athletics director and representatives of the football and basketball teams, all pledging mutual support for one another and an undying dedication to “Jayhawk” pride. The set-to could be dismissed as a normal, but unappreciated, macho “boys will be boys” atmosphere; however, the frequency of misconduct and violence by college athletes shows no signs of diminishing.
Admittedly, the nefarious actions of athletes will get more ink than will members of the student body at large as a proverbial fall from grace is infinitely more newsworthy. In addition to the almost weekly published travails of star players busted for drugs, rape, burglary, theft or similar transgressions, the small print sections of the sports page carry continuing sagas of lesser athletes arrested, incarcerated or dismissed from school.
Inasmuch as anyone who follows sports would be quick to recognize the culprits, it serves no purpose to rehash the litany of names and misdeeds. Nevertheless, it would be remiss to omit the roles of the college and university administrations in general and the athletics departments in particular in recognizing their roles in recruiting malpractice and lowered educational and individual discipline standards.
Among Big 12 coaches who have beclouded the integrity of university athletics was former University of Oklahoma and Indiana’s Kelvin Sampson. Although a charismatic and winning basketball mentor, Sampson was reprimanded for recruiting violations at Oklahoma and fired by Indiana along with sanctioning by the NCAA for repeat violations. Meanwhile, Memphis University and former coach John Calipari are under fire for allegations of a stand-in taking the SAT for a star player, now in the NBA.
Lest we snicker too loudly over the misfortunes of arch rival Kansas, it behooves us to recall the frailties of similar programs in our recent past. Before coaches Gary Pinkel and Mike Anderson, Mizzou’s football and basketball programs were marked by poor repute in performance and discipline as seen in departures and police blotters.
The worst-case scenario involved basketball player Ricky Clemons, a talented but troubled young man. The aftermath of a domestic assault on his girlfriend and allegations of improper activities by assistant coaches raised some red flags as to his eligibility.
Subsequent hiring of coaches whose interest in their players on and off the field and added scrutiny of integrity and moral character in recruiting have done us proud at Mizzou. Minor infractions are handled by counseling and internal discipline while moral turpitude offenders are shown the door.
A large measure of misconduct by college athletes can be avoided by stringent background investigation of prospective recruits. Admittedly, that would shrink the pool of available athletes of potential greatness; however, one who is constantly at odds with accepted social practices while in high school or a consistent “D” or “F” student is hardly destined to color dear old alma mater with distinction on the field of play or in the classroom.
Hand in hand with raising the bar in recruiting athletes, college and university administrators should bite the bullet and return to pre-1972 NCAA standard of freshmen ineligibility for football and basketball. Intercollegiate sports are vital, however, the freshman year should be one of scholarship and attending class. And, as precious few graduate in 4 years, there would be no loss of eligibility – the "red shirt" still applies.
That “one and done” performer who attends class for one semester as a stepping stone to the professional ranks has no place in an institution of higher learning.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.