Rutgers fights for athletic reform

Thomas Douty

While the University embarks on an effort to restructure its men’s athletics program, a New Jersey group is taking a different approach to academic problems it shares with universities across the nation.
English professor William Dowling, one of the founding members of Rutgers 1000, is trying to persuade Rutgers University to withdraw from Division I-A and return to Division I-AA, which more strictly limits athletic scholarships.
The Rutgers 1000 campaign, which features high-profile members like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, formed in 1995 in an attempt to de-emphasize sports at the university.
Rutgers 1000 is divided into three divisions: faculty, alumni and students. The students, one of the group’s most active tiers, have had success combatting the university’s powerful athletics department.
After learning the men’s basketball team spent $2 million for locker rooms and other facilities, the coalition launched a $500 million campaign of its own to improve classrooms and other buildings.
Despite this success, the group’s plight continues regardless of the successes or failures of the athletics department, Dowling said.
He also said campaigners won’t capitalize on the suit brought against the university alleging the men’s basketball coach ordered two players to strip nude after competing in a free-throw contest.
Neither do the teams’ successes determine the academic-revitalization campaign’s mission, Dowling said.
“Our position against sports doesn’t have anything to do with whether a team is winning or losing,” he said.
Currently, the alumni division of Rutgers 1000 is embroiled in a legal battle with the administration over an advertisement the group wanted to print in Rutgers Magazine, a 100,000-circulation alumni publication.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought a suit against the magazine after it refused to publish the advertisement. The magazine said it did not accept any advocacy ads.
Dowling is confident this legal case will further the group’s cause on a national level.
“They’re going to win this case. When they win, they’re going to place a huge ad in the alumni magazine,” he said.
Richard Purple, University professor of physiology, said he doesn’t think Dowling’s crusade is politically feasible at the University.
Purple said although he would like to see true amateur status reinstated, Dowling’s plan would not solve the problem on the Twin Cities campus.
“I’d like to see, wherever possible, we go back to the amateur athletics,” he said.
Purple said he believes student-athletes should be granted scholarships, but ones limited to Minnesota residents or children of University alumni on the basis of financial need.
He also said athletics departments should receive 30 to 50 percent of their funding from the University to alleviate pressure on Division I programs to win.
“If an institution demands the right to regulate athletics, it ought to pay part of the price,” he said.
He also said coaches should be treated as teachers, granted something similar to tenure and be evaluated by their peers. They should not be paid exorbitant salaries, and they should not be fired for losing.
But radical changes are not without consequences.
Dowling said he has been threatened for his extreme position on athletics. He sued an Internet board after a Web site included his e-mail address and business phone, inciting people to harass him.
Despite the opposition, Dowling said he is confident the Rutgers 1000 campaign will help that university fight athletic corruption and academic misconduct.
“Rutgers used to be a very good university, and it will be again,” he said.

Thomas Douty welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3223.