LAST MONTH, COLLEGE presidents meeting in New Orleans at the annul NCAA conference pushed through a host of reforms geared at cleaning up" college athletics. Although the progress is apparent, these reforms are hardly a cause for celebration, as they are only a few modest steps along a long path that must be followed if an appropriate balance between academics and athletics is to be struck.
Nonetheless, while a number of articles were passed, the most important change to the NCAA was not written into any rule book or given a code number: instead it is that for perhaps the first time in history, college presidents took control over the organization with the realization that athletics are too important to be left to college athletic departments.
Abuses of big time college athletics ranging from recruiting violations to the abuse of academic standards, have finally, in the minds of the college presidents, reached the point of crisis. While the image of the college presidents climbing down from their sequestered cloisters to right this wrong is a noble one, it is not as accurate as it may appear. No doubt college presidents have known for years the types of abuses that have been so rampant. Yet they have maintained their distance, either out of neglect, boredom or the desire to enjoy the financial fruits of big time athletics.
IT BEGAN INNOCENTLY ENOUGH with gym classes, and then intramurals and finally intercollegiate athletics, In time, however, crowds came, and after them came T.V. and the money that flows endlessly behind it.
Telvisea college sports suddenly began raking in more money for the universities than any fund-raising drive could have hoped for, and with the revenue pouring in, college presidents, for the most part, kept their hands off the thriving industry.
In the meantime, the NCAA grew bigger, more awkward and more un-wieldly.
Scandals in recent years, such as the uncovering of the admission of students who could barely read or write, or the point shaving disasters, prompted college presidents to make a move.
At New Orleans, among the most significant pieces of legislation adopted was the so called "Death Penalty," or the two-year banishment from competetition for chronic institutional violators. (It is labeled as such because in college circles it is widely perceived that drawing such a sentence would effectively kill a college's athletic program.) Also adopted was a rule which would, for the first time, sanction the athletes themselves for knowingly violating a rule. In addition, teams convicted of infractions would be prohibited from recruiting.
It may be true that college presidents were forced to take these steps not so much for the sake of integrity but for the sake of saving their programs before the public loses faith in college sports. Recent polls have shown that the public is souring on commercial excess of the system originally designed to promote amateur athletic competition.)
IN ONE SENSE, the new proposals, adopted by the NCAA, mild as they are, signal a new day for college athletics. Yet, in another sense, these reforms are a sad commentary on a tarnished system for being to obvious and so late in coming. They were so obvious to President Bok that he didn't even bother going, sending Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59 and Director of Athletics John P. Reardon '60 to act as "yes-men" for all the proposed changes.
Attention must now focus not only on further rules and refinements but also on the reform of the system itself. Next on the agenda are freshman eligibility for varsity competition, reconsideration of "Proposition 48" (which sets academic requirements for freshman student-athletes), drug testing, and further tightening and enforcing of academic progress and "good standing" rules. Beyond these changes, the NCAA should also be looking to eliminate freshman competition at the varsity level in big-money sports such as football and basketball.
However these changes can only come about in a governing board of college athletics that has strong presidential leadership. College and university presidents are not necessarily wiser than anyone else, but they are the final barrier. Unless they continue to take a strong stand, these first token measures will quickly lose their value. The table is finally set for some real reforms.