I have written before about my hopes that educational institutions at the K-12 and collegiate level will abandon football. My argument then was that subjecting students to the high likelihood of head trauma was unethical and in addition that football was an expensive money sink with no upside except for a few colleges that made money from it.
But another argument that I should have also made is the one that trying to have winning teams leads schools into corrupt practices where both academics and ethics are sacrificed in pursuit of winning. This applies not just to football but also to basketball, another high-profile collegiate sport.
Mark Esposito writes about the scandalous situation that arose recently at the University of North Carolina after an instructor and advisor Mary Willingham revealed that some of the athletes could barely read.
Willingham’s preliminary figures found that of 183 football and basketball players at UNC from 2004-12, 60 percent were reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level. Prof. Willingham even encountered athletes who could not read or write at all when she worked as an academic tutor to the athletic department where she would do such scholarly work as helping football players sound out the word “Wis-con-sin.”
It got even worse. It was found that some of the athletes were directed towards certain courses that never met at all and for which they got passing grades.
The university president and provost attacked her veracity and of course so did the crazy fans for whom a winning team is more important than anything else.
Mary had been reprimanded by troglodyte fans both inside and outside of the UNC administration for the audacious act of laying truth at the feet of power. Mary had taken on the hoariest (maybe “whoriest” is the better choice of words) of gods on many major college campuses today — the big, bad revenue sports.
The chancellor of the university later acknowledged that there was a problem.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt admitted for the first time to the school’s board of trustees that the university had “failed students for years” by offering bogus classes, forging professors’ names and changing grades to keep athletes eligible.
But UNC is hardly an isolated case. The appallingly low graduation rates of students in major collegiate athletic programs, despite all these corrupt practices to push them through, have long been a national scandal. But there seems to be no concerted effort to change things, with each scandal being treated as an isolated case instead of being a symptom of a systemic problem.