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How to Help Student Athletes : Landmark report says college athletics have gone way off course

March 22, 1991

Guess who's complaining: Big time college sports programs are out of control and drastic steps must be taken to eliminate sleaziness. A bunch of wimpy professors who couldn't enjoy a good college football game if they tried? Wrong. Try a former president of the University of Notre Dame, a quintessential college football power.

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh and 21 other devotees of college athletics--among them UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young, U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Rep. Thomas McMillen (D-Md.), a former All-American basketball player--have added their powerful voices to a rising chorus demanding an end to the academic and financial abuses that have undermined college sports.

As members of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, they issued a scathing report this week entitled "Keeping Faith With the Student-Athlete." The 18-month study confirmed what many have long suspected: that some college sports programs "have lost their bearings." They are more concerned with winning at any cost and signing lucrative television contracts than they are with educating the young people in their charge.

The chief reform the commission recommends is one we have touted for some time as a fundamental change needed in the current system. Individual college and university presidents must take firm control of their athletic programs, and of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. that oversees them. The influence of coaches, athletic directors and team boosters must be reduced. It also recommends (1) tougher entrance requirements for college athletes (2) demonstrable progress towards graduation to maintain eligibility and (3) regular audits of athletic programs. All are sound ideas.

Unless the college sports scandals end, McMillen warned that Congress is likely to step in and impose reforms. It should not have to come to that. It won't if the Knight Commission's recommendations are put to work.

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