Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

May 2002

Athletic vs. Academic Excellence

There are some very large problems facing higher ed institutions. While Vermont has its own higher ed issues, none compares to the universities that field highly ranked Division 1 athletic teams. Fine. UVM has outstanding hockey, basketball and skiing programs, but Florida State it ain't, okay?

Anyway, basketball powerhouses and, to a greater extent, football factories such as Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, Tennessee and the like, are really riding a treacherous tiger. Alumni, fans and students thrive on the success of their teams. However, the very players who make those teams successful are really striving, as the saying goes, to "play on Sunday" or Monday night.

The difficulties of recruiting outstanding athletes pale in comparison to the problems of keeping those players eligible to compete. Faculty members are pressured to pass inattentive, ill-prepared students while the student-athletes struggle to manage time and finances while waiting to be drafted. Some of the best leave "early" to be drafted into the bigs; many of those who stay do not graduate.

Meanwhile, the gaming industry whether regulated as in Las Vegas, or not, as in Buddy the bookie analyzes every player's every effort with the skill, systems and fervor of a Standard & Poor's credit rater. Also interested in the bucks, the universities have formed combines (aka "conferences") that negotiate and share in promotional revenues, particularly in so-called post-season playoffs, tournaments and bowl games.

So, I have a couple of ideas that I think should find support from business people especially business people in Vermont who could lead the way without first reversing directions.

Idea one: Eliminate athletic scholarships. Like the kids who receive the vast (as in 90 percent) majority of said scholarships ever really gave a rat's meow about scholarships, okay?

Idea two: Form corporate leagues where "amateur" athletes are paid a decent wage while training and competing. When pro teams wish to draft (hire away) amateurs who have distinguished themselves in corporate leagues, it's like business, see. You just go out and hire some new high school kids. It would work very much like the current system except the kids-in-Keds would be paid better and above the table.

Idea three: Encourage former collegiate athletic powerhouses to start horse racing stables. Think about it! No more compromising of educational standards, yet plenty to cheer about, and, more important, minimal disruption of the gaming industry. The proceeds from the racing programs could support real academic scholarships.

Hey, and the stud fees could build up the endowment.