Character · Ethics

Academics Always First

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The summer can be a period of doldrums for most sport fans.  For many people, the summer is the slow period before football season begins.  Not only the NFL, but college football.

Listen to any sports talk shows, or watch some ESPN, or other sports media broadcast, and there are sure to be more and more football stories as the summer progresses.  The draft picks, the free agency period, and the latest recruiting classes are all common topics of discussion.  We are getting close to the start of football practices, and before we know it, September will be upon us, and the stadiums will once again fill up, and the crowds will be cheering.  Football seasons will be back in full swing.

I’m a graduate of two great universities.  I receiving an under-graduate degree from North Carolina State, and later finished a graduate degree from Colorado State University.  Two institutions that I’m proud to be an alumni of.  Two institutions not known for powerful athletic programs.  And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Watching some of the news stories over the last couple of years have been plagued with some serious accusations.  Penn State coaches and members of the administration were involved in looking the other way for child sexual abuse by an assistant coach.  University of North Carolina was in trouble for having many of its athletes take fictional classes that allowed these “students” to have a free ride to bolster GPAs, and allowed them to focus more on being athletes.

Most recently, Baylor has been in the news for rampant sexual assaults that were covered up and ignored.  The football coach was fired, and even the president of the college, Ken Starr, was demoted to a lesser role.  Although his eventual fate may still be yet undecided.  A result of these revelations has caused the new recruits to withdraw their commitments to the college.  The football program looks to be on the decline for the foreseeable future, and the rebuilding of the college reputation may take a while.

These institutions are symptomatic of an ongoing problem in college athletics.  That is, the desire to have a winning athletic program is at a higher priority than quality of education and reputation.  As we get close to the start of the fall semester, which means the start of football season, as well as all the other fall sports, we’ll probably see the cycle continue.  Institutions will make similar mistakes.  To look the other way to get a high quality recruit to play on the team will be too tempting.  It may not matter to some the quality of person or their actions may be questionable.  All that matters is that they lead the team to victory.

The sad, and surprising part of this is the some boosters and supporters of these programs often look the other way.  They may help to cover for some of these individuals when they violate NCAA regulations, or even when breaking laws.  They may cast doubt on any accusations of wrong doing, or to support these athletes against the rules of the NCAA.  This is nothing new, and unfortunately has been around as long as athletic programs.

There are many unreported transgressions, I’m sure.  UNC, Penn State, and now Baylor may have been some of the recent institutions that made mistakes and put athletics ahead of educational reputations.  They will not be the last.  As long as the money is too tempting, there will be others willing to overlook something because when the team wins, they win.  Winning programs bring in significant amounts of money and power.  Individuals will reap rewards.  A winning coach can use a smaller institution as a stepping stone to a bigger and more reputable program, increasing their salaries in the process.  Overlooking bad characters may be tempting because one player can make the difference.  One successful season may lead to more opportunities.  The temptations may be too appealing for some.

We need to hold these institutions accountable, even if it means sacrificing some wins to do so.  As a student of Colorado State and NC State, I get more excited about their educational standing.  I see the Hunt Library at NC State and feel proud.  I see the rankings of quality MBA programs that Colorado State ranks in, or recently when I saw NC State was in the top 20 of STEM schools, I felt a surge of pride.  Insist that the college or university you support does an adequate job with education.  I wish people would be excited about this as they do getting to a bowl game of a post season tournament.

Do I want to see athletic teams at NC State and Colorado State do well?  Sure.  Do I want to have these athletes sacrifice or receive an inferior educational experience just to get a few more wins each season?  No.  I would rather have team of high character and good educational every time.

As we get close to the start of the college football season, try cheering on their educational aspects of the student athletes instead of simply looking at the scoreboard at the end of the game.  If all you care about is if the teams wins, then you are also part of the problem.  There are far too many former athletes at large programs that were never prepared for life after they quit playing.  They went to classes geared for GPA boosting instead of real world skill development.  Their playing career ends, and they leave school, ill prepared for life after college.

Cheer the reputations of these institutions first, and then cheer them on in the arena or field of play.  To the administration of Colorado State and NC State, do not jeopardize the academic reputation just to win a meaningless game.  Keep the integrity and academics of the program first and foremost, and I’ll be cheering you on all the way.  A top 25 ranking for academics is infinitely better than any athletic achievement.  Academics and integrity are the priority.  Keep these student athletes prepped and ready for life after playing.  Always value academics over winning.

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