COL An unspeakable solution

How to stop college sports woes at the 'U'

It is just one more regrettable and lamentable episode in the up-and-down history of intercollegiate sports at the University of Minnesota.

Brenda Oldfield, the highly successful coach of the women's basketball team, is leaving for a better job at the University of Maryland. Like other successful coaches before her, she was not deterred by the fact that she had held the $200,000-a-year job for only nine months, nor the fact that she had signed a five-year contract that does not include a penalty for early departure, nor the fact that the university had offered her a "tremendous" offer to stay.

College coaches don't need to bother about such things. (At the very same time, the men's basketball coach, Dan Monson, almost agreed to leave his $700,000-a-year job for the University of Washington. He decided after a meeting at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday with athletic director Tom Moe to fulfill his contract, at least for the moment).

Premature departure of successful coaches is only one of the headaches that the university's athletic program inflicts on University President Mark Yudof (who is not yet threatening to walk away from his comparatively puny salary of $250,000). There are other problems as well. One is the fact that the university's expenses for intercollegiate sports are exceeding the available revenue. One proposed solution is to combine the men's and women's athletic programs, but that has provoked extended controversy.


Past problems, which have a way of recurring, are those involving illicit academic aid to athletes struggling to pass their courses. The university has been punished by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for having university employees write term papers and give other assistance to players whose interest in their academic assignments is minimal. Problems of that kind resulted in the departure of former men's basketball Coach Clem Haskins, who left with a $1.5 million settlement. (The university is now seeking to recover the $1.5 million because it seems that Haskins was aware of the fact that players could coast through their courses using publicly funded plagiarism).

Other incidents in the past have included allegations of sexual violence by male athletes and, in 1990, improper payments to athletes by university administrators.

In fact, the recurring cycle of scandals associated with college sports goes back more than 70 years. According to a report in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Athletics issued a report in 1929 entitled "American College Athletics." It included the following passage:

"The paid coach, the gate receipts, the special training tables, the costly sweaters and extensive journeys in Pullman (railroad) cars, the recruiting from high schools, the demoralizing publicity showered on the players, the devotion of an undue proportion of time to training, the devices for putting a desirable athlete, but a weak scholar, across the hurdles of the examinations -- these ought to stop."

They haven't stopped, although jet planes have replaced Pullman cars. But there is a way to put a permanent end to these problems. To some, it would be an unspeakable solution, yet it would solve the budget problems of the athletic program. It would make illegal payments to athletes and illegal academic assistance unnecessary. It would end the ironic situation in which football coaches are paid three to five times as much as university presidents and professors. It would eliminate the opportunity for successful coaches to breach their contracts to take a better offer.

The solution is simply to drop intercollegiate athletics. Students interested in sports for pleasure or for fitness could organize intramural teams. The university could concentrate on teaching and academic excellence. President Yudof could concentrate on running an institution of learning.

Is that going to happen? No, not in the short run. But in another 70 years, when budget problems become more severe and the sports scandals continue unabated, it may be time to give the idea a chance.

The issue:


University of Minnesota confronts problems involving college sports.

; Our comment:

An unspeakable solution for the problems of college athletic programs that have been with us for more than 70 years.

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