Thursday, June 10, 2010

They can't take that away from me

The NCAA today adopted sanctions against USC for violations of their standards for aiding athletes.  Among those sanctions were the relinquishing of the National Championship in Football that the Trojans won against Oklahoma.

Athletic scholarships became a part of college sports with Amos Alonzo Stagg when he coached at the University of Chicago.  Stagg could not compete against the public universities in the area for students so he established a program to aid needy students who also played football.   As those programs began to grow, colleges and universities established the National Collegiate Athletic Conference to set rules for the appropriate way to recruit and retain student athletes.   SC was accused of violating rules with three sets of student athletes.   I have no doubt that the charges were proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

But from my perspective there are two things wrong with the result today.  First, college graduation rates for student athletes are still abysmal.   The goal of many student athletes is to play professional ball not to graduate from college.  The system which started out simple has become entirely too complex.   This year, I had a student athlete who was coached by my son who graduated and is going to attend college in the fall.  A year ago I sat down with this kid and talked to him about college opportunities.  I gave him some advice about how to choose a college and characterized his decision as an economic one - ultimately he needed to think about the place that would give him the best chance to graduate not the one that promised him the best shot at the pros.  The vast majority of college athletes with aspirations for professional sports are disappointed.  When he graduated from high school, my wife and I gave him a gift of cash, because he was going to a college where he would live in an apartment.   Technically, because at one point I was on the Alumni Board, I could have been guilty of illegal recruiting tactics - even though the amount of money in the gift was small and even though I actually discouraged him from considering SC (he is small for a college player at his position).

Second, my son and I went to the National Championship game in 2004.   SC had an impressive record that year.  They played a tough schedule and won convincingly against Oklahoma.    We had a great time at the game.  I will guarantee you that one of more of the Oklahoma fans violated some aspect of the NCAA rules that year.  That is not to excuse the SC violations, but it is to suggest that violating the rules is more widespread than these sanctions suggest.   The NCAA can take away the championship.  But I was there.  The memories of that evening and trip will not be erased.

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