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Group Aims To Change College Sports

October 22, 1999

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ In a time when ``student-athletes″ graduate from college unable to read and when a university athletic department rocked by an academic fraud scandal can still post a $4.2 million profit, some professors and administrators are through suffering in silence.

A two-day conference, ``Corruption in College Sports: The Way Out,″ wrapped up Friday at Drake University with deep feelings among the participants that drastic measures must be taken to save academics from the poison of big-time sports.

``We are here because of fraud,″ former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown told the nearly four dozen attendees from across the nation.

The ``fraud,″ according to those who attended, ranges from adding games to an already overlong schedule, to academic counselors who must answer to the athletic department, to coaches pocketing money from shoe and apparel contracts without giving a cent back to the school.

Jon Ericson, a rhetoric and communications professor at Drake, set up the conference to establish radical changes in how universities treat athletes and intercollegiate sports. The goal is to develop proposals to school presidents and faculty senates across the nation.

Ericson said a permanent group established at the conference, the National Association of Faculty Committed to Athletic Reform, will meet in three or four months to nail down a final version of the proposals.

Among the ideas considered are appointing an independent faculty committee to review the academic performance of athletes, and linking athletes’ academic success to the number of athletic scholarships an institution may award annually.

Much of the debate during the conference focused on where the blame should lie for the current state of big-time sports on campus. The NCAA was a prime target for attack for allegedly selling out students and schools in the blind pursuit of money.

But some professors and administrators saw the fault as lying not within the NCAA, but within themselves.

``We can’t run fast enough to bring in as much money as we can from any source. It has nothing to do with the NCAA,″ said Christine Grant, women’s director of athletics at Iowa. ``You only need to go to our stadium, our arenas to see the effect of corporate sponsorship. Believe me, we are concentrating on that more and more and more because expenditures are going up.″

Grant compared the situation to an ``arms race,″ with no school willing to cede the competition the slightest advantage. The result is colleges’ athletic department budgets are spiraling out of control.

``The sad part about it is, it only takes one institution to move in a given direction and appear to have a competitive advantage and the rest of us run to catch up and, if possible, surpass that institution,″ she said. ``You never win. The race is never, never over.″

Many conference attendees noted that reforming college athletics would seem to be impossible, given the powerful _ and rich _ forces which would oppose any threat to the status quo. More than one person mentioned CBS’ eight-year, $1.73 billion contract for television rights to the NCAA basketball tournament

``In many historical instances, it seemed that social change would be virtually impossible: the abolition of slavery, the abolition of apartheid, tearing down the Berlin Wall, removing the Jim Crow Laws from the South,″ said Rob Benford, a sociology professor at Nebraska. ``All these things were thought in their time to be virtually impossible to overcome because they were so fundamental to the economic interest of their time.

``If we take the attitude that this is impossible because they are so powerful and we are so relatively weak, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy,″ he said.

Benford added he’d heard some criticism that those attending the conference were against sports. He declared that wasn’t the case at all.

``If we weren’t sports fans, we wouldn’t be here,″ he said.

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