Playing by the rules

The verdict is in. And after the latest revelations of athletics impropriety, the NCAA sentenced the University to two additional years of probation. At a news conference Tuesday, University officials said they have fixed any oversight problems and ousted those involved. They said it shouldn’t happen again. But at a University that has endured seven major infractions cases since 1969, we’ve heard that before. And, if history is any guide, we’ll hear it again.

This is not a problem particular to the University. Nor is it simply the fault of individuals acting unethically. Rather, bending the rules is an inevitable outgrowth of the commercialized, big-time athletics model that stresses the “athlete” in “student-athlete.” Despite changes in counseling and reporting lines and sincere pledges to hire ethical staff, the pressures to win in major sports will almost certainly lead to corner-cutting in the future.

This fact is encouraging a growing number of people at schools nationwide to call for athletics reform. They’re seeking an appropriate balance of big-time athletics and academics. After enduring this latest series of scandals, the University should be at the forefront of this movement. The University has taken some welcome steps, but further changes are needed. The cost of maintaining the status quo is too great. Big-time sports are overshadowing the University’s educational mission, straining the budget, encouraging cynicism and eroding the public trust that is essential at the Legislature.

That said, athletics remain an important part of the college experience for many students. They also are a connection to alumni and donors. But as the University deals with these latest penalties, hires a new president and athletics director, policy-makers should consider this question: How do commercialized athletics fit into the University’s educational mission? In the meantime, we’ll await the next scandal.