Sports Law Blog
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Saturday, March 07, 2015
Colleges Need to Recalibrate Their Priorities
This week, Syracuse University and the University of Tennessee once again illustrate how a school's "lack of institutional control" over their athletic department can bring shame to campus. The unfortunate reality is that schools often distance themselves from what should be their primary mission (education) in an effort to remain competitive on the field or court. Values are compromised as wins are chased.
At Syracuse, the bubble has burst as Jim Boeheim's legacy is now, unequivocally, tarnished as ESPN's Dana O'Neill discusses here. The 94 page NCAA report states that Coach Boeheim "failed in his responsibility to promote an atmosphere of compliance" (i.e. he did not run a clean program). The stain of cheating will now follow an otherwise prominent coach. And, to be clear, the punishment meted out by the NCAA appears to be quite lenient for the Orange as new rules would require harsher sanctions. [Note: to understand the legal concept of ex post facto one merely needs to refer to the latest NFL disciplinary punishments relative to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.]
Now, reports from the University of Tennessee are surfacing that the athletic department is being accused of influencing the discipline of students. If true, such actions would be yet another example of an athletic department placing student and institutional integrity at "peril." And these charges are entirely separate from FIVE players on their 2014 football team being charged with sexual assault. These incidents come at a time when the University of Tennessee system (along with many others) is under investigation by the federal government over their handling of sexual assault cases.
While many of us, this author included, rail against the NCAA for lack of concern for student welfare, what's becoming more apparent is that too many schools are losing their bearings relative to their educational mission. By engaging in "big time" college sports, many schools appear to neglect their very purpose--to encourage student development both academically and socially. Athletics and academics are not mutually exclusive, but leaders within higher education ought to spend more time reassessing their priorities.
[Update: Here's a terrific piece written by William C. Rhoden of the New York Times titled "Coach Woven in Syracuse's Fabric Oversees Its Unraveling." He has a wonderful quote:
"Athletics will stay, but academic scandals like those at Syracuse and North Carolina can rupture the uneasy relationship between sports and the academy. They can also be demoralizing to faculty members who have to bite their tongues and hold their noses at places where the grandest campus buildings and the largest salaries belong to the athletics department."