It is hard to disagree that certain Division I intercollegiate athletic programs (mainly football and basketball) have become much more of a business operation than a pure outlet for students to exhibit what athletic skills they have. Professor William Dowling’s 2003 statement regarding his opinion of the future of Rutgers athletics poses an interesting question. What if the emphasis remained solely on education (as it does with Division III) at all levels, and assuming no more athletic scholarships were given out what the effect would be on students?
Division I athletics have dangerously low academic standards for their athletes. In an effort to keep the fans pleased, universities are allowing their athletes to essentially breeze through college, should they even graduate (and not many do, judging by the low graduation rates reported by Division I institutions). For example, in March 2003 University of Georgia assistant basketball coach Jim Harrick Jr. “taught” a basketball class for several of the players on the team. Every player received an A and never attended the class and the final exam was something a person with the bare-minimum of intelligence about the game could pass. Academically prestigious schools are allowing the athletes to slip through the cracks, not receiving the education needed to succeed in life beyond the football field or basketball court and bringing down the credibility of the programs.
Let’s assume that all Division I programs get rid of athletic scholarships in attempts to bring the main emphasis back on a higher education. For one, the talent would be much more widespread. The most talented players could no longer go to the most prestigious schools if their grades did not live up to the expectations of the university. Many athletes would take a closer look at their future should it not involve playing professional football or basketball. Say the best football player in the country wants to major in Sport Management but does not have the money or grades to attend a big school like Ohio State or Texas. Thus, that player might consider coming to Ohio University, known for its Sport Management program but not so much for its athletics. In that case, the BCS title game (although it most likely would not still exist, let’s just assume it does in this argument) could contain Ohio University and say, Rutgers or just about any other school for that matter.
I could potentially benefit greatly from this hypothetical situation. Division I-A football programs alone give out 85 full scholarships; if those no longer existed, the money from those scholarships could be used on academic ones. In that case, it is possible that I could have received more money for my past and present accomplishments.
I enjoy watching college football and basketball (and baseball for that matter) just like many other people. These are not professional sports though, and the main objective when attending college is to receive a higher education. Division I programs, if mirroring Division III as Professor Dowling suggested, would maintain academic priorities and stabilize athletic programs as nothing more than an extra-curricular activity. It would be a popular one, but an extra-curricular activity nonetheless. College sports used to be viewed as sport in its most unadulterated form and many educators have realized this dilemma of athlete publicity and commercialization. Fearing they may be losing the integrity and meaning behind the true college experience in the first place, these university leaders are taking an important first step in improving the focus of the athletic programs and the athletes themselves.