Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Woodling: Profs resigned to divide

October 23, 2007

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OK, students, here is this week's multiple-choice question (fanfare, please): What is the Knight Commission?

a) A watchdog group formed to monitor the antics of Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight.

b) A splinter group determined to change the name of the Knight chess piece to Horsehead.

c) An ineffectual group committed to the reform of intercollegiate athletics.

d) A revisionist history group convinced the Crusades never happened.

Too easy, wasn't it? Just about everybody knows the Knight Commission is a privately funded organization that from time to time tells us which way the wind is blowing - or should blow - in college athletics.

Just last week, the Knight Commission announced it had taken a survey that showed an increase in apathy among academicians about the unstoppable growth of Big Football and Big Basketball.

The survey of 3,000 faculty members from 23 schools highlighted one conclusion above all others: "A striking number of professors say they don't know about and are disconnected from issues facing college sports."

To tell the truth, not very many media outlets bothered to run this story, and I'm pretty sure I know why. It wasn't news. I mean, tell us something we don't know. Those of us who cover college athletics know Big Football and Big Basketball have as much to do with a university's mission as Nemo does with oceanography.

Or as Gary Roberts, dean of the Indiana University law school, told the Knight folks: "They're in the entertainment business, and the values that permeate that culture are very different from the values that permeate the education culture."

Not too long ago, professors and department heads were enraged about the gulf between their salaries and those pulled down by coaches and athletic-department administrators, and they said so. Not anymore.

As the survey proved, the academicians have grown to accept the fact there is nothing they can do to stop Big Football and Big Basketball from rolling inexorably down the tracks.

"I think that at the end of the day," Roberts added, "(the faculty) sense is that if they tried to get in front of the train, they'd just get run over anyway."

Nevertheless, about 38 percent of faculty surveyed did not agree, many professors saying they could control the athletic-department steam engine because they have final say in academic eligibility.

That's true, but how often do you hear these days about a Big Football or Big Basketball player flunking out? It hardly happens anymore, in large part, because athletic departments have so much money they can afford to spend millions on academic support.

At the same time, all that money enables athletic departments to keep student-athletes on scholarship for five years, meaning the student-athletes can enhance their academic standing by taking fewer hours per semester than they would if they were losing their grants after four years.

Perhaps it's an overstatement to aver in this big bucks era of university athletics that money talks and academics walks. Little doubt exists, however, that the gulf will grow wider before it shrinks to the level it was just 10 years ago.

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