An academic answer for sports scandal

An academic coalition pushes for reform in college athletics.
Tuesday, June 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

A coalition of 200 past or present university personnel from schools across the country, including a member in Columbia, is proposing a plan for reform in intercollegiate athletics.

The Drake Group plan aims to change the relationship between academic institutions and their athletic departments.

The plan outlines measures faculty can take to safeguard their universities’ academic integrity and to stop or prevent corrupt practices such as academic cheating in college sports.

The plan follows in the wake of several college sports scandals, including a current investigation by the NCAA of the men’s basketball program at MU.

“The power of the faculty to effect change is a largely untapped resource in the struggle for the heart and mind of the academy,” says the Drake Group’s mission statement. “Faculty are positioned to implement changes that would make an immediate difference in remediating and resolving some of the perennial problems in college sport.”

Under the group’s reform plan:

n A cumulative grade point average of 2.0 (on a 4.0 scale) would be required of students each semester to continue participation in college sports. The Drake Group said the proposal would create a “safety net” for academically at-risk students who participate in athletics.

“This creates a mechanism of institutional accountability to pre-emptively assist athletes ... without the interference of the athletic department,” according to information from the Drake Group.

The requirement puts an emphasis on academic success and would help athletes who are “caught in the vortex of competing demands (between academics and athletics),” the group said.

n One-year renewable athletic scholarships would be replaced with five-year scholarships whose renewal would not depend on athletic ability.

“Doing away with athletic grants whose renewal is tied to athletic performance will make it clear that college athletes are not employees under contract to play sports,” the group said. Universities would reaffirm their commitment to athletes “as students, not entertainers,” with five-year scholarships.

n Students would be required to establish first-year residency before being eligible for competition, which would affirm their commitment to their schools.

“It puts the decision of who will represent the institution in athletic competition squarely in the hands of the faculty ... each student who represents the institution must prove that he/she can and will do the work ... before being eligible for competition,” the group said.

A residency requirement would let students explore opportunities available at an institution before committing many hours to competition, which would make it less likely for any student to leave for any reason prior to graduation.

n For courses in which athletes are enrolled, public disclosure of the average grade point average and the name of the course’s professor would be required.

Jon Ericson, a founding member and former president of the Drake Group, said it is focused on “truth-telling.” He said the first step in solving problems of academic impropriety is to describe them. “Disclosure is necessary (on the part of the institution) for accountability,” Ericson said. “Our focus is on the conduct of faculty and administrators, not on the students.”

The Drake Group is one of several voices nationally calling for reform in college sports. At its next meeting, MU’s Faculty Council is scheduled to discuss joining another such group, the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Last August, the Faculty Council adopted a resolution to spearhead an intercollegiate athletic reformation movement on campus and at other schools. The council called for academic support structures for athletes to be “fully integrated in university-wide programs, so that academic expectations and services are as robust for athletes as for other students,” according to transcripts of the council’s meetings.

“The Faculty Council is very much interested in strengthening oversight of intercollegiate athletics,” its leader, Gordon Christensen, said Monday.

The council recommended that athletics scholarships be extended beyond one-year grantsand advocated for the reduction of “inappropriate aspects of commercialization.” It also required annual reports on intercollegiate athletics to be provided to faculty senates across the country.

Ericson helped launch the Drake Group in October 1999 after learning of academic cheating by athletes at Drake University, where he served as provost. He said Drake Group members are encouraged to propose the group’s amendments to their institutions and to press for reform. Ken Green, a Columbia businessman and a member of the Drake Group, has been networking with MU professors about the group’s proposals. Green, who taught at schools in all three divisions of the NCAA, joined the Drake Group eight months ago to help “bring back integrity to our universities.” He said that at most of the universities where he worked — including Drake University, Wabash College, College of William and Mary and Purdue University — he was made aware of academic cheating by athletes.

Green said he joined the group because he is trying to “identify with a group that seems to have the answers” and said he thinks the group “has worked out an excellent proposal to counter the pressure to lower academic standards for athletes.”

Drake Group members have criticized the NCAA, saying it has poorly monitored the academic integrity of universities and has not kept college sport commercialization under control. NCAA president Myles Brand, however, has said critics, including the Drake Group, overestimate the extent to which college sport is commercialized. He also maintains that the NCAA is working hard to tackle questions of academic performance of athletes.

The NCAA investigation into MU’s men’s basketball team, begun in June 2003, originally included allegations that former player Ricky Clemons received improper academic assistance from tutors. The NCAA was unable to substantiate those allegations and did not include them in its “notice of allegations” received by MU last month.

The allegations state that several members of the basketball program bought meals, provided transportation and had impermissible contact with recruits. In addition, associate basketball coach Tony Harvey has been accused of giving Clemons $250.

MU has until July 1 to formally respond to the NCAA, which cites violations made by basketball program members between 1999 and 2003.

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