Genie Out Of The Bottle

You have doubtless heard about the sex scandal involving the basketball team at the University of Louisville. It is reported (again and again) that for a number of years a woman by the name of Katina Powell procured prostitutes and exotic dancers to attend to the needs and urges of basketball recruits in order to entice them into enrolling in the university. Reportedly this has cost the university “tens of thousands” of dollars and involved numerous high school recruits and their fathers or guardians over a number of years.

This is sensational and the media love sensational stories so it will become the hottest story around —  at least until interest wanes. But the real questions lie at the heart of this sort of thing, because we must suppose that Louisville is not the only school to be involved in doing whatever it takes to win. They are simply the ones that got caught, because Powell wrote a book about it and the police and the NCAA are investigating the reports, which appear to be well founded.  The real question is how this sort of thing can be stopped. And the answer, I fear, is that it cannot be stopped. There is simply too much money involved in Division I basketball and football to put an end to the sordid activities that coaches will resort to the get a “leg up” on the competition. And while  Rick Pitino. the coach at Louisville, has denied any knowledge of these going-on, it beggars belief that the man would not be fully aware of these activities. As a recent Yahoo News story notes:

Pitino has repeatedly denied any knowledge of strippers being paid to dance for or have sex with recruits, but in Powell’s first interview since her book was published, she reiterated to ESPN she finds that hard to believe.

Said Powell: “Four years, a boatload of recruits, a boatload of dancers, loud music, alcohol, security, cameras, basketball players who came in [to the dorm] at will … ”

What will be interesting now will be how Louisville responds. Will the school try to get ahead of potential NCAA sanctions and self-impose penalties or encourage Pitino to step down? Or will it do nothing besides continuing to insist it’s still investigating the veracity of Powell’s claims?

The standard response, of course, is that “everyone does it” and that is supposed to count as moral justification. But, even if true, it does not. I have written about the scandals involving athletes before (some would say endlessly) and this one really doesn’t differ in kind from the rest; it is simply more sensational because of the role played by prostitutes and the involvement of high school students — and their fathers or guardians. Louisville will almost certainly be found guilty as charged. The coach and perhaps the athletics director might be fired and there will be NCAA penalties. Whatever does occur, the whole thing will soon go the way of Ohio State, Penn State, Minnesota, and scores of other schools involved in scandals. It will be forgotten. What matters here is the success of the teams and, of course, the revenue they bring in.

I have suggested in the past that all athletes at Division I universities should be paid a decent salary and treated as professionals. If they then want to attend college they can pay tuition like everyone else. If not, they can spend it as they like and gamble on the remote possibility that they will be selected in the NFL or the NBA and become Professionals with a capital “P.” But this would not begin to solve the problems that surround college athletics because, they involve such huge amounts of money and, as in this case, they also involve young people who aren’t even enrolled at the school. There is simply no way to put a stop to this sort of transgression. The demand for sports on television — where the bulk of the money is generated — is insatiable and the networks couldn’t stop broadcasting the contests even if they wanted to. And, clearly, they don’t want to. They also make huge amounts of money.

Didn’t Jesus warn us all long ago that avarice is the root of all evil? These issues, along with many others too numerous to mention, seem to bear this out. In any event, moralizing aside, the genie is out of the bottle and there really doesn’t seem to be any way to put it back.

Who’s In Charge Here?

You may have heard about the refusal of the football team at Grambling University recently to board a bus to play a football game at nearby Jackson State — the latter’s Homecoming, as it happens. The game was cancelled, though one suspects that the revelry at Jackson State was not put on hold! In any event, the situation raises some interesting questions about our educational priorities and about the willingness of young people, in this case, to accept their responsibilities. After all, these players are on football “scholarships” and made some sort of commitment to the university when they agreed to play football there.

A recent news story tells us, in part, the cause of the players’ discontent: “The players are unhappy with [university President] Pogue, the university’s facilities, transportation and the dismissal of coach Doug Williams, a Grambling alum and former Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Washington Redskins.” In recent weeks the players were required to travel by bus to a game 900 miles away, which is a lot to ask of pampered athletes. But the University has fallen on hard financial times and has had to make deep cuts in a number of programs. One suspects that air travel in this case is out of the question. One also suspects that this is what the players were promised and what they have come to expect. At any rate, they refused to play a game that would have involved another bus ride, this time a comparatively brief one, and this has caused ripples at the university and around the country. ESPN loves this stuff! The players have called for the firing of President Pogue who commented that the players should be aware of their responsibilities to the university and aware also of the fact that they are at Grambling to get a “first class education.” Sure. Former Grambling coach Doug Williams recently tweeted “”I am proud of them boys. They took a stand.” So much for the myth of a “first class education” in the case of at least one former Grambling alum. On the other hand, the players claim their uniforms are not cleaned properly and this has brought on a number of of staph infections. If true, this is a serious charge indeed. Time will tell.

The larger question here is not who is right and who is wrong on this particular issue, but whether a struggling university should even try to fund a football team in the first place. Indeed, a number of times I have raised the question whether the tail wags the dog in college athletics at the Division I NCAA level. Who’s in charge? This question keeps coming up. Does the athletics department at those schools rule the roost? In this case do the athletes at Grambling rule the roost? One would like to think that President Pogue is right on: education ought to be the first priority and the athletics department in general and the football program in particular should suck hind tit — if they are allowed any nourishment at all. But that is a pipe dream because there are tons of money involved in large, successful football programs and the universities are willing to do anything (I repeat, anything) necessary to field a successful football team. Witness the Oklahoma State scandal recently, and, of course, Penn State and Ohio State. And the list goes on.

So while we reflect on whether a group of spoiled athletes who may have a legitimate gripe and may or may not have been promised the stars when they were recruited to Grambling ought to be heroes, as Williams suggests, because “they took a stand,” one must ask whether their stand was worth taking and whether or not these young men were standing on principle or whether they were simply put out because they were not treated royally as they have been led to expect. And this may be the root cause of the entire issue: in this age of entitlement the young have been led to expect royal treatment and when they don’t receive it they feel they have legitimate grounds to protest in whatever way seems appropriate — even if it involves ignoring the promises they made and their obligations to a university that is, after all, paying for their education.

Back To The Toilet Bowl

I blogged recently about the rash of football bowl games at this time of year that makes the stomach turn over and the head whirl. Actually, it was a re-blog from last year but the blog seemed timely and I ran it again. In that blog I sought to tie in the absurd number of bowl games with the ridiculous inversion of priorities that has invaded the major universities in this country making education almost incidental.

I have repeatedly gone on about the need to rethink our priorities in education — not only higher education, but all of education. At the lower grades we have placed the child’s sense of self-esteem above the need to know — and by creating a false sense of self-esteem in our kids we have bred a narcissistic sense of entitlement that permeates the culture. In the higher grades we see the colleges fighting over doctrine, territory, and enrollments while the students plan their next party; in the process all are forgetting that education is what it is all supposed to be about.

But the depth of the problem really came home to me when I was reading Sports Illustrated’s annual “Scorecard” in which Ohio State’s third string quarterback, Cardale Jones, was quoted as having tweeted “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” It’s hard to know what to add to this indictment of the education system at that level. It provides graphic evidence of the depth of illusion in the case of at least one of the participants in a football program that was being denied participation in a bowl game by the NCAA. But it also shows how little at least this player regards the importance of the education Ohio State University is supposed to be providing him free of charge. Talk about biting the hand that feeds!

This has been a most interesting year in the arena of major college sports scandals, of course, with the Penn State scandal the most prominent. And that situation just got more interesting as the State of Pennsylvania pledged to take the NCAA to court to have their sanctions overturned. (I’m just happy it’s not my tax money that will pay for that!) But the larger issue is the fact that Penn State and Ohio State are not isolated cases: they just happened to get caught. In major college football and basketball programs across the country the coaches are paid salaries that dwarf those of the college presidents — not to mention the occasional Nobel Prize-winning physics professor. And rules are bent and things like sodomy are allowed to pass unnoticed in order to field a winning team. The message that comes across — and judging from Jones’ tweet it is being received loud and clear — is that education really doesn’t matter: success on the field and the court are what matter, because that success translates into profits. Education at the “higher” levels is big business and the putative students are the victims though they don’t seem to realize it.