Mike Jarvis, former men’s basketball coach at Boston University, St. John’s, and George Washington, writes in his Yahoo! column about the academic costs of division 1 basketball, particularly at tournament time. He recounts his GW team’s run in the NCAA tournament and the classes his players had to miss, along with the assistance provided by the univerisity (tutors, advisers, and administrators) to ameliorate the problem. He candidly admits that these measures were not full compensation for missed class time. He suggests having internet connections to live classes and class archives as solutions to the problem. He then laments that measures like this will not be taken because of money: “The rationale usually given is that it will cost too much, and if we do it for the men, then we have to do it for the women. What a great idea. Why not do it for both?”
I hope that colleges would take steps like this. It doesn’t seem that hard or costly. It would be really bad if colleges wouldn’t do it because they don’t want to do it for women, too.
That having been said, Jarvis points to money as the problem in the wrong way. The problem isn’t the cost of helping athletes keep up with their classes. The problem is the desire of the NCAA and its member institutions to earn money from weekday TV broadcasts. According to cnn.com, CBS pays about $545 million per year to televise the NCAA tournament games. That’s serious money, enough to pull some excellent academic institutions into athletic schedules that not only take athletes away from class, but also make it effectively impossible to study certain subjects (particularly lab science classes).
Real remedies for this problem go way beyond the Internet solution proposed by Jarvis. It would be naive to think that the NCAA and its members will give up this cash flow anytime soon, so athletes will continue to miss classes and find it impossible to take others. College athletes therefore ought to get extra guaranteed years of scholarship assistance (including room and board) after eligibility expires so they can take classes that were impossible during their playing years. Alternatively, they could receive money that could be spent on tuition (or something else – maybe grad school?) after their playing days. Sports Illustrated proposed an athletes’ bill of rights in a recent story on college sports (particularly Ohio State).
I’m not optimistic that reforms like this will happen soon. For all the good that they do, the NCAA and its member institutions seem bent on growing the commercial enterprise of college sports. As self-professed educators first, they ought to do more to ensure the academic success of the talent that makes all that money possible.