Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal at University of Texas at Austin


Palaima: Failure to reform NCAA is at Root of Cheating Scandal

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Friday, June 19, 2015 Austin American-Statesman
print edition Saturday June 20, 2015

By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor LINKS TO COIA reports at bottom

As we move through life, we experience moments of revelation when we see clearly what meaning we want our lives to have, how we will spend our time on this earth. Saul, on the road to Damascus, was surrounded by a blinding light, went three days without sight, food or drink, and changed his ways of thinking. He became St. Paul.

Sometimes we realize we have had enough, like world welterweight boxing champion Roberto Durán 35 years ago conceding his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard by telling the referee, “No más, no más.” Durán was widely ridiculed, but he knew it was the right thing to do. He went on to hold titles as a light middleweight and middleweight and is considered the greatest lightweight boxer of the twentieth century.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Brad Wolverton alleges that three student athletes who played basketball between 2003 and 2014 at the University of Texas were guilty of academic misconduct and “illustrate how the university has appeared to let academically deficient players push the limits on academic integrity as it has sought to improve its teams’ academic records.” Notice how easy it is to blame the victims.

From September 2008 through May 2011, I was the UT and Big XII representative on the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a national organization formed originally to try to make sure that all student athletes in the big-time sports entertainment industry known as the National Collegiate Athletics Association get something we could call an education.

COIA’s members have a bit of St. Paul in them. They are mostly senior professors who have reached a point where the problems that major NCAA sports programs cause for the academic integrity of their institutions obligate them to try to do something.

In my case, the timing seemed right. In 2007 the Austin American-Statesman published a series of front-page stories on the excesses of UT’s NCAA program. Remarks from the UT athletic director and his chief financial officer like “We eat what we kill,” meaning we raise lots of money for sports and are darn sure going to spend it all on sports, and “We are the Joneses,” meaning we kill and eat so much more than most everybody else that they all want to be like us, made me think that someone in a position of power in the UT Tower or the Legislature or the Board of Regents would do something.

I was dead wrong. Likewise, graduation rates for minority athletes were embarrassingly low, and the differentials in standardized exam scores between regular students and basketball and football players were shocking to anyone who prioritized education and intellectual life.

In late January 2011, COIA met at Big Ten headquarters near Chicago. We heard talks from NCAA President Mark Emmert, from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, and then from Graham Spanier, for 15 years president of Penn State University. All stressed the morality and integrity of NCAA sports and the need for independent faculty oversight of NCAA programs. There is still none at UT.
Spanier went further. He assured us that every year he spoke to everyone having anything to do with NCAA sports on his campus and told them if they knew of the smallest infraction, he wanted to be informed so he could correct the matter. Nine months later, in November 2011, came revelations about sexual predator Jerry Sandusky and the “conspiracy of silence” by Spanier and other top officials at Penn State. That was my “no más” moment.

The NCAA mandates that student athletes should devote no more than 20 hours a week to their sport. Their own survey in 2008 proved that football players average 44.8 hours per week. Their Academic Progress Rate requires cumulative GPAs of 1.8, 1.9 and 2.0 at the end of the second, third and fourth years. UT’s average GPA for all students, including athletes, is ca. 3.2. And a satisfactory APR requires completion of only 80 percent of coursework by the end of the fourth year. The NCAA then runs a system in which, in comparison with average students, student athletes have too little time, many make poor grades and many end four years without a degree.
The academic misconduct of the NCAA, countenanced by regents, university presidents, college coaches, season ticket holders, men’s and women’s athletics councils, sports writers and NCAA officials is what needs to be addressed. They should all head toward Damascus before it’s too late.

FOR links to COIA reports 2009 and 2011, see

Charlie Strong’s core values should match the rest of UT


Palaima: Charlie Strong’s core values should match the rest of UT

Posted: 6:00 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 Austin American-Statesman print October 26, 2014

By Tom Palaima – Regular Contributor

There are many occasions for us to wonder how or why people in positions of authority make the decisions, adopt the policies or say the things that they say, without their advisers offering forceful objections beforehand or anyone offering criticism at the time or after the fact.

There are many reasons for this. It is not easy to speak frankly to people who hold and use power. Few leaders follow Abraham Lincoln’s sound policy of having as his Cabinet a team of rivals who naturally viewed issues differently than he did and said so. It is also hard to dig down to underlying assumptions or to see hidden implications.

Praise has been heaped on University of Texas at Austin head football coach Charlie Strong for adopting and enforcing a strict set of five core values for student athletes on the UT football team. In late September, Strong spoke forthrightly in person to the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, about National Collegiate Athletic Association programs sending “players with questionable character” to the NFL where the mix of bad character and lots of money “accentuates the problem.”

Yet the very core values that Strong has enunciated indicate how out of synch big-time college sports programs are with the cultural values of the educational institutions with which they are, in some views, only loosely affiliated.

Imagine, if you will, a general pool of non-athlete prospective students who have expressed interest in enrolling at UT, or Stanford University or Stephen F. Austin State University.

During a campus visit, these would-be students and their parents listen intently to the dean of students or the university president or the head of the physics department. What they hear is this: “Our core values are the same as Charlie Strong’s. If your sons and daughters come here, they will learn to treat women with respect, be honest, and no stealing, drugs or guns.” There is a good chance those students and their parents would probably think that they had accidentally found their ways into a youth correctional facility.

There is a night and day difference between the UT football program’s core values and the core values that UT promotes for the other 75,000 students, faculty and staff: “The core values of The University of Texas at Austin are learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. Each member of the university is expected to uphold these values through integrity, honesty, trust, fairness, and respect toward peers and community.”

Far from finding Strong’s core values laudable, I find them troubling, even demeaning to the true student athletes in his program. They point out a Grand Canyon separation in attitudes and outlooks between students and faculty on one side and student athletes and coaches on the other.

Strong’s idea that somehow bad character is reinforced, or at least not corrected, only during the few years — often less than four — when student athletes are actively participating in NCAA programs is also questionable. The corruption begins when NCAA recruiters start contacting prospective athletes even before they are in high school. Young athletes start losing touch with reality from that point right on through to when national television networks broadcast as events of major importance where a high school athlete during his senior year has decided to “go to college.”

The disconnection between big-time NCAA athletics and serious higher education is countenanced and reinforced by the policies of the NCAA and of the colleges and universities. At the University of Texas at Austin, in response to pressure from the Texas Higher Education Board, the Board of Regents, the Texas State Legislature and other state political leaders, there is now an emphasis on students graduating within four years of matriculation. UT-Austin has even appointed Vice Provost David Laude to serve as a special “graduation czar” with a hefty $291,000 salary to enforce policies that will increase our four-year graduation rates.

Yet the academic success or failure of athletics programs has been and still is determined on a six-year time schedule. Student athletes satisfy the requirements of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate if they have finished about 80 percent of their course work within four years with grade point averages of 2.0. Compare this low satisfactory GPA to the average GPA for all students at UT-Austin, around 3.2, and we can see how the Academic Progress Rate’s emphasis on maintaining sports eligibility is a disincentive regarding academic achievement.

Our colleges and universities are homes to learning. Let’s think of ways that, for athletes in major revenue sports, they can be much more than houses of correction.

Palaima is a classics professor at the University of Texas.