Thursday, July 31, 2008

Student-athletes or student-inmates?

WVU quarterback Pat White suggested on Tuesday that the reason he hasn't also played baseball in Morgantown is that the WVU baseball coach is a racist. And, believe it or not, that qualifies White as one of the good guys in area college athletics this week. Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, after his team's significant criminal element was featured in an ESPN "Outside the Lines" program, finally dismissed defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor from the team. Baker was part of two fights, one that occurred off campus in April and left two people injured, the other a fight at the student union that left one person hurt. Baker's previous punishment was suspension from campus during summer school - yes, summer school. Taylor also was involved in the student union fracas. The actions against Baker and Taylor come just months after receiver Chris Bell was tossed off the team after police said he burst into a campus dining hall and threatened a teammate with a large knife. Nice. Sounds more like state prison than State College. And we haven't even discussed the April 2007 incident in which a gang of more than a dozen football players broke into a campus apartment, leading to a melee in which, according to "Outside the Lines," one student was struck with a beer bottle, another was whacked with a wooden stool and yet another was kicked in the face. I could go on, but for more on the seemingly out-of-control Penn State football program, I would highly recommend Bob Smizik's column from the Wednesday Post-Gazette. At about the same time Paterno, shown above in a "What, Me Worry?" pose, was formulating his punishment for Baker and Taylor, a couple of White's fellow WVU athletes were introducing themselves to police in Pittsburgh. According to a P-G report, WVU basketball players Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman were arrested after a scuffle at a PNC Park security station where they had been taken by off-duty police officers who were working at a Pirates-Colorado Rockies game. Police said the two had been drinking underage and refused to provide ID. Officers said Thoroughman struggled with them after being asked to put his hands behind his back, and they eventually had to hit him with pepper spray to subdue him. Meanwhile, according to police, Mazzulla tried to prevent his teammate's arrest and took a swing at an officer before he, too, was taken down. Typically, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, not exactly known as a disciplinarian, said, "We will let the judicial process take its course, and the matter will be handled internally." Of course it will. If WVU can determine that even a good portion of what police say is true, the two players should be removed from the team and have their scholarships revoked. But that's not going to happen, especially in the case of Mazzulla, who is a rising star on the team. Mostly likely, the pair will be suspended for an early season game against the Little Sisters of the Poor or some other punching-bag team. When do we reach the point where so-called student-athletes are held accountable for their actions? When do we reach the point where the cesspool that is now big-time college athletics forces college presidents to rethink the skewed emphasis on games? When do coaches quit bringing low-life thugs onto college campuses? The answer is never, because the top-tier college sports, football and men's basketball, bring in big bucks, and money always wins out over doing the right thing. And it isn't just at the college level. More and more people are living and dying with high school sports, basing their happiness on the achievements or failures of a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old kids. That's really sad. I'm a sports fan, but we have a sickness in this country when it comes to athletics. What is the cure?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this would be a heresy to some, but I think it's worth considering whether we should sever big-time sports from colleges and universities and create a minor league system for football and basketball like the one baseball has.

Sure, the teams could continue to use the mega-stadiums that schools like Penn State and the University of Michigan have established, but let's be honest about it -- these aren't "student athletes" in the sense that they're there to major in physics and play football on the side -- these guys are there hoping for a shot at a career in professional sports.

--Brad Hundt

July 31, 2008 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Brad, your suggestion is not heresy, it is the right direction. College sports has become far too big on the money racket to retain the intended status. Far too many colleges center their school around their athletic programs. Academics is long lost in the shuffle.

While we are at it, how about doing the same at the high school level? I have long advocated taking athletics out of high schools, putting them into club sports. Too much money goes into high school athletics, big stadiums, turf fields, practice facilities, and the list goes on. If there is so much interest, then club sports should do just fine on their own. Let the schools do what they are intended to do, educate the students, at the least cost to the taxpayer.

July 31, 2008 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Sorry, I think it should read "... college sports have ...," not "has."

July 31, 2008 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

As demographics change and the bulk of the population becomes younger, thereby shifting the way money is spent, we'll continue to see how education is de-valued and much more emphasis is placed on entertainment - and that is exactly what athletics have become in our educational system...entertainment. It's not about building character or teaching teamwork & sportsmanship. It's about winning. I don't know how it is up north, but on Friday nights in the fall in Richmond, the TV stations have camera crews set up at "key" games (NOT the private schools or the ones in the bad neighborhoods), and high school football dominates the headlines.Frankly, I'm sick of education taking a back seat to a bunch of games.

August 1, 2008 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

I meant to reply to what you said last night, but I got busy at work. That damn job of mine is really getting in the way of proper blog maintenance. Anyway, I'm guessing that 20 years ago, I would have disagreed with your idea about making high school athletics club sports, but I don't now. Let the sports programs, in the same way as we have Little League baseball, be community based, and let those who want to play foot the bill, rather than having the taxpayers buying football helmets, basketball uniforms and Fieldturf playing surfaces. Many high school-age athletes already are focused more on club and traveling teams than their high school squads. Let's continue the drift in that direction. At the same time, I think we need to reverse the trend that has led to less physical education in our schools. Students are more sedentary than when you and I were in school, and they need more, new fewer, hours of phys ed.

August 1, 2008 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Brant said...

You can rest assured that our TV stations are on board with the high school football overkill. We even have one station that uses its news helicopter to offer football "Skylights" from the games. Nice use of fossil fuels there. But what really irks me is the way the so-called "newscasts" on local TV are now dominated by anything mildly significant done by the Steelers. I'm as big a football fan as anyone (anyone normal, at least), but when I turn on the news, what I want to see at the top of the hour is actual news, not a breathless report advising us that Big Ben expelled a turd that was of a curious color, and that Sports Team 2, 4 or 11 will have full coverage, including interviews with prominent physicians to tell us what this odd-colored log might mean and exclusive video of the toilet where it was deposited. WILL BIG BEN PLAY ON SUNDAY?!?!?!? Sweet Jeezus! Yes, a lot of people here live and die with the Steelers, but it has gotten ridiculous.

August 1, 2008 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

And in case Brant's comments raised anyone's curiosity... said turd can be purchased here:

Since Big Ben is... well, big... his
scat was mistaken for dinosaur dung...


August 1, 2008 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger srmargueritelsp said...

The Little Sisters of the Poor do exist and are not "a punching bag team" but a congregation of women religious. We were founded in 1839
in France by Blessed Jeanne Jugan
and we provide homes for the elderly
poor. We have 34 homes in the US and are in 27 countries.

Sr. Marguerite, l.s.p.

August 1, 2008 at 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised a pitchfork-wielding mob hasn't turned up outside the O-R after I suggested that colleges and universities might want to rethink how they approach sports. I haven't read it, but there's a book by Murray Sperber of Indiana University called "Beer and Circus" which looks at the whole issue and also suggests that the alleged $$ that flow to universities from sports rarely make it to academic departments.

As for the Steelers, I'm not from this area originally, so I haven't been hammered over the head by all-things-Stillers from Day One. I do take a passing interest in it, but I'm much more a baseball guy. In the lead up to the Super Bowl in '06, I was genuinely concerned -- there seemed to be such an all-consuming obsession with it, I was worried about what would've happened if the Steelers lost the game. Would calls to suicide hotlines increase dramatically?

--Brad Hundt

August 1, 2008 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

Brandt, I would agree that 20 years ago, the high school scene was different. But, the last few years, the rate of merchandising high school sports has grown rapidly. The issue finally boils down to money. The parents groom their child to be the star athlete, so that he/she will get money for college. And, to extend, the hope is the young person will move to the professional ranks and rake in big money.

As a taxpayer, I regret seeing all the scholarship money paid to support athletes in state-supported schools. Usually, the student is not there for the academics, but rather envisioning the college stay as a stepping-stone to the professional ranks. In many cases, after a couple of years of draining the scholarship funds, they declare for professional draft status.

Priguy, ... as pointed out, the media makes a huge issue of high school sports, especially football. The epitome of "over the top" was the hoopla associated with Tyronne Pryor (sp?) in Janette. The cameras couldn't get enough of this young man, and he played right into their hand with his non-committal news conference. It pointed directly to the foolishness of sports in high school.

August 1, 2008 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

The only facet of college/high school sports that I have issue with is the money (scholarships)... I don't mind if an athlete is using college as a stepping stone to the nfl... they are a vast minority of students. Let's go ahead and stereotype the dumb jocks as, well, dumb jocks... if it weren't for football, they probably wouldn't be in college... If they are interested in academics, they would be in college anyway, so their athletic pursuits are just an overlap. I am sure that future brain surgeons are not being recruited away from johns hopkins to play for Michigan State... BUT... the second string D-back majoring in General Business shouldn't get a full scholarship. You could say that the student/ATHLETE is taking the spot of a genuine student... but honestly, anyone who wants to go to college can go... somewhere... It's practically a given nowadays.
Take away the scholarships and let them earn money playing their sport... cut them in on the millions made by the school.


August 1, 2008 at 8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always laugh when I here someone say students should get paid for playing because they bring in so much money for a college.

They are being paid, with scholarship money. The NFL drafts about 300 players a year, or enough to fill about four college football teams of 85 players.

What about the rest? Some take advantage of scholarships to earn a degree and start a career. Some don't. You could say the same thing about academic scholarships, too.

The problem is that idiots such as Chris Henry and Pacman Jones are viewed as the rule and not the exception to the scholarship debate. Most athletes don't waste the opportunity and the vast majority never sniff a professional career.

August 3, 2008 at 12:42 AM  
Blogger Ellipses said...

Those tuition "payments" (maybe 120 grand over 4 years) are tiny compared to the amount of revenue these teams generate... Can you buy college jerseys with players' names on them? The reason I ask is because I use this argument any time someone says "no one is worth THAT much money" (regarding players' salaries)... If my name is Ben Roethlisberger and a million people buy a 50-100 dollar shirt BECAUSE it has "roethlisberger" on the back, then I expect to get a fairly decent cut from that money. I don't know how the royalty schedule is in the NFL for merchandise... maybe that is figured into their salaries, maybe they get a % of licensed sales... whatever... but if my name generates 100 million dollars in sales, then I am worth a 20 million per year contract. If having Tyrone Pryor on your team helps you keep that 10 million dollar tv deal, sells a buttload of licenses shirts and draws 80 thousand paying fans to your stadium on game day, then he should get more than 25,000 dollars worth of free schoolin'. I earn a higher percentage of revenue at my job than he does, and I am far from a marquee name :-)


August 3, 2008 at 4:37 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

... said,

25,000 dollars worth of free schoolin'.

Sorry, this is where your argument goes wrong. There is little, if any, schoolin' going on for these big-name athletes.

You have carefully, and wonderfully, outlined the reasons athletics should be taken out of the education system. You cite all the monetary reasons for giving the athletes money (in the form of scholarships). If the entity (don't even know what to call it) wants to transact business like a corporation, that is fine. Take it off the campus, and let it stand on its own. There is no reason to make the relationship. Calling these athletes on college campus in the big-name programs "amateur" is a joke. No matter how it is sliced and diced, they are being paid for their services.

August 3, 2008 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

It was funny enough when college players, particularly the football and basketball team members, were called "student-athletes." Yesterday, I heard someone refer to college sports participants as "scholar-athletes." Scholars? The American Heritage dictionary defines scholar as a "learned person" or a "specialist in a specific branch of knowledge." Good luck finding more than a couple of those on the WVU, Pitt or Penn State practice fields.

August 4, 2008 at 9:05 AM  

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