Athletics and Academics Can Mix


It can be done. Athletics and academics can mix. Duke, which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, and Stanford, which won the National Invitation Tournament, are two of the most academically demanding and respected universities in the nation. And their basketball and football players go to class, make good grades and even graduate.

All colleges could and should strive for such an environment. That does not mean every forward and quarterback in the land should be on a rocket-scientist track. A college education means more than that. Or should we say less? There are less demanding careers for which colleges today -- especially tax-supported institutions -- have a responsibility to prepare youths. There is a place in America for a UNLV and the young men for whom all would be lost but for their athletic abilities.

What there is not -- or should not -- be is a place for schools whose coaches, recruiters and boosters exploit such youths, preparing them for neither careers nor citizenship, requiring of them a commitment of time, effort and focus that makes even a minimal educational experience impossible. Such places exploit not only their athletic charges but their universities' good names.

The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics recommended last month that universities and colleges "rethink the management and fundamental premises of intercollegiate athletics." It is almost certainly too late to go back to the basic premise that athletics is solely a part of the educational experience -- character building and all that. The entertainment element and, yes, to youngsters at least, the inspirational element of big-time college sports have become too ingrained in American culture to be done away.

But it is not too late to rethink the management premise. By making major changes in current management practices, athletic programs that entertain, inspire and educate without exploitation can flourish on campuses as different as those at Durham, N.C., and Las Vegas, Nev. All that is required is to return full control of athletics on campus and in the NCAA to college presidents.

The Knight Commission recognized this. It called for "presidential authority" over athletic departments, including all financial arrangements. That's fine, but we agree with Rep. Tom McMillen, a member of the commission, who wanted presidents to take over the governing body of the NCAA. Only the NCAA can make sure all schools play by the same rules. Given the competitive nature of college sports, if a few schools get away with cutting corners, many will follow. The NCAA imposes rules all have to obey on the court and gridiron. With presidential control, the NCAA could impose good, tough rules for athletes in class and dorm.

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