Though UNC-Chapel Hill recently began investigating the largest academic scandal in its history, university administrators in the state and nationwide say the problem has likely been festering for some time.
Professors, administrators and athletics staff have raised concerns about the relationship between revenue sports and academics.
Steve Ballard, chancellor at East Carolina University, said in an email that the potential for academic fraud among student athletes has existed since college football and basketball became televised, high-revenue sports three decades ago.
And Terry Holland, athletics director at ECU, said in an email that the rise of high-revenue sports has had lasting impacts on colleges and universities.
“The chase for dollars is unintentionally compromising academic integrity and the breaking up (of) decades-old conference rivalries is only part of the collateral damage inflicted on intercollegiate athletics.”
Last year, it was discovered that an ECU women’s tennis player and academic tutor had written papers for four baseball players in 2010. The revelation prompted NCAA sanctions.
Jay Schalin, director of state policy analysis for the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, attributes recent scandals to a “perfect storm” of two factors — the nation’s increasing obsession with college athletics and the general lowering of scholastic standards.
But Edmund Gordon, chairman of the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said revenue-seeking universities must also be wary of abusing student athletes.
“Universities need to be held accountable for the fact that, at the top levels, you are taking generally disadvantaged black males, and you are making enormous amounts of money off of them,” he said.
Gordon said that more needs be done to ensure players have a good future.
“It is not fair for a coach to be paid $5 million and a player only to get their tuition paid for. It seems that they need to get an education and some sort of deferred payment.”
He has suggested switching to a six-year graduation system with four-year eligibility for athletes or setting up a trust fund for the education of athletes’ children.
Holland said university leaders have too often “fallen into the same trap” of athletic directors who try to cover up a problem without addressing its source.
At ECU, Ballard said administrators have made several changes after their 2010 sanctions , including moving all academic support for athletics to the university provost’s office and creating a campuswide academic success committee.
“Ninety-eight percent of our student athletes never make any money from their sports,” Ballard said. “Therefore, our primary responsibility is to lead them toward a degree and competencies they can use in the global economy.”
While no other official investigations have been undertaken at schools in the UNC system, President Thomas Ross has warned schools to be vigilant.
“President Ross has urged all chancellors to be mindful of the potential problems and to take any steps needed to ensure that similar problems don’t occur,” said Joni Worthington, UNC-system spokeswoman, in an email.
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