I was amused by the hypocrisy of the most recent
revelations regarding the Ed Martin basketball
scandal and the University's response. President Mary
Sue Coleman's remarks include, "There is no excuse
for what happened. It was wrong, plain and simple."
Was it really so wrong and so simple? Where is
the damage here that justifies a federal investigation?
What this scandal reveals is the lack of moral
foundation for NCAA rules that are in large part
arbitrary and discriminatory.
For starters, on what basis does the NCAA or
the University of Michigan reserve the right to
determine how an adult borrows money? Are all scholarship
students barred from getting loans? Can they
receive loans from more legitimate lending institutions
for cars, housing or other expenses? On what legal
basis does the NCAA bar adults from entering into
contractual agreements based on future earnings?
If these are the terms of scholarship athletes,
the high-profile athlete would be better off paying full
tuition. Many of our students receive grants and
loans to pay for college and other expenses. Under the
guise of protecting the student athletes' best interest,
the NCAA rules are nothing more than gentlemen's
agreements among universities that at the very least could
be considered violations of anti-trust law. That esteemed
institutions of higher learning would stoop to such
collusion already has been demonstrated by the recent
salary cap episode involving vulnerable assistant coaches.
If it is so wrong for student athletes to accept
money, either as gifts or loans, how can we justify the
institution profiting from athletic endeavors? We teach
by example and our behavior as an institution speaks
for itself. When students lacking academic credentials
are admitted solely because of athletic prowess in the
big-money sports of football and basketball and asked
to spend 3040 hours a week on training and travel,
why are we surprised when they do not graduate?
Lately, we have seen great furor over affirmative
action admissions. At least we can morally justify
lowering admission standards slightly, if indeed that is
what occurs, to create a diverse student body and to
rectify past discrimination. These outcomes are in the
good. What is the moral justification for
admitting athletes who are unqualified academically? Such
students would be better off at less rigorous
institutions and with more time to study. I can only guess that
admission to the high-profile athletic programs is
not about the students' best interests. Rather, it is
about winning. Winning generates profits, it placates
alumni who donate, and it sells Michigan sweatshirts and hats.
Head coaches in basketball and football, among
the highest paid employees, are hired and fired based
on their winning percentages, not graduation rates.
I do not wish to imply that the coaches and athletic administrators have no
integrity, rather that the system under which they operate is fundamentally
flawed. If "integrity is Michigan's top priority," perhaps it
is time to stop the hypocrisy and allow students to profit from their
talents. Alternatively, we could return to true amateur status; let us
field teams of students who have been accepted based on academic credentials
and let the University divest itself from the profits generated by its
sports teams. The current system perpetuates the "hoop dreams"
of vulnerable student athletes, it profits from their talents, yet it
limits their educational and career opportunities and denies them legal
adult status all under the moral pretense of protecting their best interests.
Associate professor, Department of Pathology
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