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Group Seeks to Reform Market-driven College Athletics

Sociologist establishes a team and game plan

by Redante Asuncion-Reed, Publications Office

The Drake Group is an organization of university professors and administrators seeking to reform college sports by bringing back the focus to academic integrity and the education of athletes. The group has criticized the current system as rampant with abuse, believing that college sports programs serve primarily as farm teams to the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The system’s main purpose, they say, is to exploit athletes for financial gain in the multimillion-dollar-per-year business of college sports. In the process, however, the actual education of these athletes is widely neglected and compromised.

One of the Drake Group’s founding members is Allen L. Sack, a sociologist and professor at the University of New Haven. He and his Drake Group colleagues, most notably, Murray Sperber (Indiana University), Jon Ericson (Drake University), and the group’s current president, Linda Bensel-Meyers (University of Denver), have been very vocal in the media the past three years drawing attention to what they say is a “hidden crisis” in college sports. Examples of corruption in the system include: grade inflation; tacit approval of plagiarism; preferential treatment of athletes; and students unprepared for the academic rigors of a major university being guided to a watered-down and substandard “jock curriculum.” Moreover, the institutionalization of one-year athletic scholarships where renewal is contingent on performance in the field puts college athletes’ priorities on sports over education.

A Plan

The Drake Group is proposing a four-point plan that can be implemented by faculty around the country. Adoption of these proposals, Sack says, will resolve many of the problems that accompany big-time college sports:

    1) Set 2.0 as the minimum GPA requirement for athletic eligibility. Faculty can pass this proposal on its own without having to depend on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
    2) Eliminate freshman eligibility for varsity sports.
    3) Create five-year scholarships that can only be removed for poor academic performance.
    4) Support the disclosure of the quality of classroom instruction that athletes are receiving.

The Drake Group got its start at a 1999 conference at Drake University in Iowa addressing corruption in college sports. The conference’s aim was not to just “tinker” with the flaws in the system but to abolish the corruption altogether. By March 2000 the brainstorming had coalesced into a plan for action, and by October 2000 the Drake Group was formed.

The path to reform, however, has not been easy. Members of the group have received negative attention as a result of their reform efforts. In 2000, for example, Linda Bensel-Meyers exposed academic abuse by the athletic department at the University of Tennessee at a faculty senate meeting. As a result, she experienced widespread harassment, was vilified on the Internet, talk radio and newspapers, and received threatening letters and emails. She is now working at the University of Denver. The Drake Group, however, kept on track with activities despite setbacks. They have created a yearly award for a faculty or staff member who has taken a courageous stand to defend academic integrity in collegiate sport. They discussed implementation strategies of the four-point proposal at a recent meeting in San Antonio. They are planning a protest at next year’s Final Four tournament in St. Louis, which would be larger than the protest they coordinated in this year’s Final Four in San Antonio. They came to the aid of faculty members who have been under pressure in their schools for standing up for academic integrity.

A 2.0 GPA Contingency

Sack stresses that the Drake Group is concerned primarily with faculty behavior, rather than with the behavior of organizations like the NCAA. Sack says that the Group supports any action the NCAA will take to defend academic standards and will work with them whenever possible. The Group members are not experts on the business of college sports and cannot tell the NCAA and those who manage college sports how to run their affairs. They are, however, experts on education and know what is necessary to defend the integrity of the classroom.

Sack describes the current situation with college sports as a family feud. The Drake Group, he said, is most upset with faculty who seem to have little concern for the integrity of their profession. When athletes cut classes, miss exams, play games on school nights, and faculty allow it, the message being sent is that that what happens in the classroom is not as important as what is being done in the athletic department. Coaches tolerate no interference with their game plans.

Faculty Can Get the Ball in Play

Faculty, Sack says, must make similar demands on students in their classrooms. “If athletes get ‘A’s’ for doing little or no work, that is not an NCAA problem, that is our problem,” explained Sack. “If faculty want to increase the graduation rates of athletes, they can do it tomorrow by simply establishing a 2.0 grade-point average for athletic eligibility. This is not rocket science. It takes a 2.0 GPA to graduate. As soon as an athlete falls below 2.0, a red flag goes up, the athlete sits out the next semester and gets back on track. If freshmen get in trouble because of the pressure of college sports, we do away with freshman eligibility. If sitting out the freshman year means it will take five years to complete four years of eligibility, we push for five-year scholarships. All of this is possible if faculty simply get the ball rolling.”

To contact and learn more about the Drake Group visit www.westga.edu/~drake/home.html.