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College athletics caught in admissions scandal

Your opinion about big-time college sports may be based on perception.

Professionals that work in athletics publicity do their best to make that perception positive, and overall, I think college sports are among society’s great assets. Athletes say time and again how structure and discipline, along with being part of a team, helps shape their lives. For millions on the sidelines, fans watch hours of college football and basketball, and appreciate talent in baseball, softball, volleyball, gymnastics and other events.

Then there are the not-so-great perceptions. Some say student-athletes are exploited or that college sports are corrupt. Opinions vary based on experience, what they’ve heard, or like this week, details revealed in an FBI bribery investigation referred to as  “Operation Varsity Blues”. In the past we’ve heard about paying players under-the-table or covert shoe reps, but celebrities paying thousands of dollars to get their kids in college and on paper, maybe a member of a team? That’s Onionish … E! Entertainment … The Star …

Unfortunately, this story goes beyond grocery store tabloids because of negative perceptions. College athletics, particularly the NCAA, hasn’t maintained the kind of public-relations bank that allows negativity to be dismissed when they’re not the primary focus.

Did fake “athletes” take the place of hard workers? — If you spent hours in the high school gym, posted great stats, studied every weekend to be the best you could be in a sport and as a student and still didn’t earn an athletics scholarship for college, we learned this week that your parents probably didn’t have connections or refused to hire people to take your SATs. That or they didn’t offer enough cash to select coaches to slide you onto a roster. There’s a good chance that some whose parents bribed their kids’ ways into school took your spot on a team at your dream university. Let that soak in as you submerge your aching muscles after a tough workout.

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Admissions loopholes exposed — The latest case to involve college coaches isn’t as much a college athletics crisis as it is for university admissions processes. While there are legal ways for families to “influence” schools, legacy preference and several million dollar donations today lead to mere “consideration” for acceptance, where cash would seal that deal years ago. William Richard Singer, who operated a college prep and counseling business, guaranteed students would get into their favored school for a hefty fee. That led to his guilty plea to “racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice” (there were so many charges I had to cut and paste). So, if you parent hired Singer as your college counselor, chances are she/he hired him to get a lot more than advice about how to format an essay.

Of course it’s about the money — Coaches implicated in this case may earn a fraction of what their basketball and football counterparts make, but they are still members of university athletics programs. What they do reflects on departments, not to mention their teams. There are true student-athletes that toil in classrooms and on fields throughout the world that work to impress coaches so that they will be among a select few chosen to compete at the next level.

It seemed that when this news broke, it was more of a joke than a federal or college sports case. The issue may not lie squarely on the NCAA or universities, but it’s one more PR blemish to add a mountain of missteps by an organization that too often looks away while its athletes pay the price.


©Gail Sideman, 2019

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