Under Pressure, Universities Try Reining In Football
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. An unprecedented painful chapter in the history of intercollegiate sports. That's what NCAA president, Mark Emmert, said about the scandal over child sexual abuse at Penn State. The university now faces some of the toughest penalties ever imposed on a collegiate sports program. And, when Emmert announced those sanctions, he said what happened at Penn State carried a warning to other schools not to let sports become too big to even challenge.
As NPR's Greg Allen reports, that warning has been sounded many times before.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It was a stunning expose on how money perverted collegiate sports, a series or articles uncovering recruiting abuses, cheating scandals, under-the-table payments to college athletes, part of a win-at-all-costs attitude. The year was 1905 and the articles in McClure's magazine helped spur a national movement to reform intercollegiate sports.
DAVID RIDPATH: I often read that article and then, also, a 1929 report from the Carnegie Foundation that, you know, literally, you could pick up and read today.
ALLEN: David Ridpath is an expert on NCAA regulations who teaches sports administration at Ohio University. After more than a century of games, alumni boosters, sponsors and TV contracts, intercollegiate sports is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. It may be time, Ridpath says, to look at the big picture.
RIDPATH: It's mind boggling that we have major sports programs affiliated with an institution of higher learning and that, oftentimes, those major sports programs are the most important thing at that campus, even at the expense of academics.
ALLEN: It's not just outsiders clamoring for fundamental changes to college sports.
BRIT KIRWAN: We've compromised our values and, to some extent, our integrity.
ALLEN: Brit Kirwan is chancellor at the University of Maryland and co-chair of the Knight Commission, an organization devoted to reforming intercollegiate athletics. At many schools, the football and basketball programs attract so much money and carry so much weight that he says it's hard, even for a college president or chancellor, to buck the system.
KIRWAN: I don't think there's any university president at a big-time program who could unilaterally announce that they were going to de-emphasize athletics and, you know, shift the funding into the institution. I mean, that president would remain in his or her position all of about an hour.
ALLEN: That's a challenge at nearly every major college and university, none more so than at the University of Miami.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERLEADERS CHEERING)
ALLEN: For decades, the University of Miami Hurricanes were the bad boys of college football. The program has been cleaned up some, but over the past year, Miami has once again been at the center of an NCAA investigation. This one is about cash, vehicles, even prostitutes allegedly provided to players by a booster. More recently, the NCAA has begun investigating possible recruiting violations.
Miami president, Donna Shalala, spoke about the allegations last year, shortly after the NCAA began its investigation.
DONNA SHALALA: The allegations leveled against current and former Miami coaches and student athletes are serious and we are treating them with the urgency and priority they warrant.
ALLEN: Shalala came to the University of Miami with a mission of improving the school's finances and academic standing. In that, she's been successful. Faced with the NCAA investigation, she and the school's athletic director imposed a one-year ban on post-season play. Miami's now waiting to see what other sanctions are coming.
Billy Corben, a filmmaker whose documentary, "The U," chronicled Hurricanes football, is one of those who believes the NCAA is part of the problem. It's a self-serving organization, he charges, that focuses on petty infractions while ignoring what he calls the inherent hypocrisy in intercollegiate sports.
BILLY CORBEN: The workers who go out there and put it all on the line and compete and break their bones and bleed and get concussions are not paid, but everybody else in the process is compensated and, often cases, quite handsomely.
ALLEN: It's possible, some say, that this moment, following the worst scandal in its history, provides an opening for real reform. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.