"Enough is enough and its time for a change," blared the music every time the late professional wrestler Owen Hart made his entrance to the ring. Curiously, this is the only quote that came to mind when I sat down to the computer and read ESPN's report about Tennessee's new-found academic fraud scandal.
It used to be that scandals associated with college athletics reserved themselves for institutions like Florida State, Miami, North Carolina State and Oklahoma. In their relentless quests for athletic glory, they would find morality in the way and casually discard it. With these scandals came a popular view that these schools were not fit academic institutions. They were football or basketball schools unconcerned with integrity or academia.
But now, scandals seem to appear everywhere. They no longer reserve themselves for these pagan schools that many believe care more about winning than winning the right way. In the last three years scandals have arisen at distinguished academic institutions like Northwestern, Michigan and even the "Mecca of morality," Notre Dame.
In fact, scandals have become so commonplace that rarely a second look is given to ESPN coming out with breaking news on another college scandal. The prevalence of so many scandals and violations lend truth to the claim that "it's happening everywhere. It just a matter of who gets caught."
What can be done about this seemingly endless barrage of scandals that has polluted college athletics recently? The answer, I'm afraid, is neither as simple as an increase in the NCAA's policing or the severity in the punishments handed down.
The solution requires a complete overhaul of the current college athletic system, especially in the sports of football and basketball. One of the major contributing factors to these violations involves athletes who simply don't want to be in school. Too often athletes use their times at college as simply a springboard to the abounding opportunity for wealth that professional sports offer. How else can you explain the astounding rate of underclassmen leaving college early and entering the draft?
Now certainly not all athletes feel this way. In no way, should anyone think that all athletes are "mindless jocks" incapable and undeserving of attending college. Many sincerely desire an education and are appreciative of the educational opportunities that their athletic prowess allows them. It is these athletes that college athletics should cater to, not their counterparts.
However, few athletes have the ability to jump straight from high school to the professional ranks. This forces many athletes to attend college, using it as an intermediary between the two levels. A minor league system, similar to that baseball employs, would allow these athletes to compete at a level similar to that of the NCAA's and be monetarily compensated for their services.
Many of the academic indiscretions and the illegal acceptance of money could be avoided by simply offering the athletes that don't want to be in college another option. By eliminating those that don't value the education and consider their scholarships adequate compensation for their services, college athletics would rid itself of many of the athletes that succumb to the temptations of illegal booster gifts and of cheating in the classroom.
Once again, consider baseball. The scandals involved in college baseball are far fewer than those that abound in college football and basketball. Perhaps this successful avoidance has to do with getting rid of athletes that don't want to be in school. They must be doing something right.
The establishment of a minor league system would not mean the elimination of college athletics. It would still be an option for those athletes who do sincerely desire an education. Yes, the quality of play might be slightly lower, but it should not affect much of a college's fan support base. Many fans choose their teams because of long-lasting loyalties to that school, not the quality of its players. If the quality was lowered across the board, furthermore, the competitive nature of college athletics would remain. The excitement of fall Saturdays and March Madness would still live on.
Neither the athletes that actually want to be in college nor the institutions themselves should be wrongfully stereotyped by the American public simply because those that don't want to be in college misbehave.
They deserve a better reputation, as do the institutions that they attend. A minor league system would at least provide an attractive option for those that don't value the education they are receiving. Perhaps the elimination of these athletes would decrease the shameful scandals that are becoming so common in college sports.
Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch once commented, "College sports should belong to kids who cherish the campus atmosphere and a chance to further their education. For those who just want to play, developmental leagues should await them." I tend to agree.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, September 30, 1999