Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Dangerous Relationship Between Sports & Universities: Another Case

I've written before about the relationship between sports and higher education. In my previous blog post on the subject, I suggested that while sports have a number of excellent qualities, they tend to breed a tribalist loyalty that causes people to do bad things in the name of upholding the identity of the tribe. The Penn State debacle was Exhibit A in that problem.

Now comes another case, this one at the University of North Carolina's flagship campus at Chapel Hill. In this case, there is evidence that athletes were given all sorts of breaks to maintain their academic eligibility, including the creation of "no-show" courses and administrative grade changes. That this sort of behavior violates the most basic tenets of education is obvious. This is clearly a major problem (and NOT just a PR problem) for UNC, and I hope they can get it cleaned up (hope - not expect).

What dismays me about this is not just that this happened - I find that I can't bring myself to be surprised, we sort of all expected that this kind of thing was going on. What is dismaying is how little coverage it seems to be getting. Sporting News is doing a great job, if you read it. But neither CNN nor Reuters - two mainstream news sources that claim to cover everything - have even a whisper of the scandal, which broke over a week ago. The NYT has a discussion - on a sports blog, and in a sports-section piece about how the team is trying to move beyond the scandal and "put it behind them". Basically, if you don't read sports news, you have probably not caught this story.

A part of this may be because most people just aren't that surprised - this really isn't news. Jerry Sandusky was (hopefully) an aberration - but fudging grades for athletes? That's not news, it's background noise.

For those that want to argue that there needs to be a fundamental rethink between sports and higher education, however, there's plenty of fodder here. Does anybody want to bet that UNC is the only school in the nation to do this? How many NCAA Div I schools are engaging in this kind of cheating right now, today? We have no way of knowing, of course, in part because sports departments will do their best to keep it quiet and in part because digging too deep into a sports program's shadows makes you a lot of enemies - as many people discovered in trying to investigate Penn State for years before the Sandusky scandal finally broke.

UNC's football program, I'm sure, wants to simply say "Hey, we've stopped, let's let the kids play football." Even assuming they have stopped - what's to keep them from starting again, in two years when no one is looking, if there's no consequence for getting caught this time? How many incredibly egregious violations can these programs get away with before somebody - a college president, a state governor, somebody with some leadership - says, enough is enough? It appears, from this latest case, that we haven't yet found the bottom of that barrel.

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