Fraud case raises doubts

Jake Kapsner

Claims of academic fraud and cash payments to tutors and players on the Gophers men’s basketball team have many people questioning the health of the program.
Yet the allegations seem indicative of problems that extend beyond the University and college basketball, to sports culture in America and academic cheating in general.
It’s no secret that sports programs garner big revenues for colleges across the country.
Gophers men’s athletics snagged revenues of almost $27 million in 1997-98, with basketball making about $6.6 million, which is more than any other sport.
Given the emphasis placed on sports at large universities, many people worry that academics have become an appendage to athletics.
Ian Maitland, professor of business ethics at the Carlson School of Management, said he doesn’t think University faculty feel academics are secondary to athletics, but they worry that’s the perception.
“I’d like to believe scandals occur here more often because the University is more willing to go after allegations of wrongdoing than other schools,” Maitland said.
Technical and nontechnical breaches of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules happen everywhere, not just at the University, said W. Bruce Erickson, professor of management in the Carlson school.
At least, that’s the most widespread faculty reaction Erickson said he has encountered to allegations of a flawed University basketball program.
The NCAA, college sports’ ruling body, formed a working group last fall to study Division I men’s and women’s basketball issues.
The 29 representatives from colleges, high schools and two apparel companies have a variety of issues on their plate. Some issues being assessed are:
ù Recruiting, summer leagues and the influence of apparel manufacturers;
ù Academic performance, freshman eligibility, graduation rates and financial aid;
ù Pursuing professional basketball careers and the influence of agents;
ù Gambling by student-athletes and their staff;
ù Student-athletes integrating with non-athletes, on and off-court behavior and player/coach relationships;
ù The playing season and the number of games.
“I think there’s a substantial number of faculty who think college basketball teams have become minor-league teams for the NBA, and that colleges should either pay students to play or get out of the basketball business,” Erickson said.
As the NCAA group finishes its study this fall, eyes will turn to just such an option.
Corporate-sponsored teams from eight cities will open play in the Collegiate Professional Basketball League, comprised of 17- to 22-year-old men. These Division I prospects will be paid $17,000 a year, get as much as eight years of tuition, room and board at a post-secondary school and can earn bonuses for college success.
And as college basketball gets a closer look, so too might academia.
From term-paper mills to plagiarized text plucked from the Internet, widespread cheating at universities has faculty members scrambling to devise solutions, Erickson said.
“The scandal has had the positive effect of focusing awareness on what people already knew was a problem,” he said.