The tipping point

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 01:51 PM

Having high-powered athletic programs exist in harmony with academics at colleges and universities appears about as likely these days as turning straw into gold.
Two news stories this past week put a fine point on the struggle of balancing academic integrity and schools’ missions with the high-dollar, high-stakes world of college sports.
The Rawlings report, commissioned by former UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, is full of good ideas and provides an excellent road map, but any actual adoption of what it puts forth is doubtful. Hunter Rawlings, the Association of American Universities president who chaired the panel that created the report, acknowledged there have been similar reports that are now collecting dust on shelves. His argument, however, is that this time is different because colleges have reached a tipping point.
The question, though, is whether we have already passed the point of no return.
With TV deals, merchandising and other streams of athletic-related revenue flowing in, it’s difficult if not impossible to see how cash-strapped institutions can turn off the spigot. It’s a question of billions of dollars. It’s also hard to see how academics can compete with a billion-dollar equation.
The second news story involving college athletics last week points to how out of hand things seem to be.
In another damning chapter in the UNC football scandal, allegations have surfaced that a Georgia sports agent funneled thousands of dollars to UNC football players -- $20,000 alone to Greg Little. That’s quite a payday for a not-yet-professional athlete. It’s also likely that we’re not done with discovering malfeasance, as names of other agents have come up during the investigation. At least this investigation has teeth. The agent or agents involved could face a felony conviction if the allegations prove true, and those involved may feel a bit more compelled to talk when they are dealing with the legal system instead of investigators from the NCAA.
If the allegations bear out, it seems that the players involved also should face ramifications. Surely they know the difference between right and wrong.
But it’s unlikely that there will be any concrete reform coming out of the mess at UNC, including the Rawlings report suggestions of capping spending for some sports team, and holding athletes out for a year who are not academically ready.
“Our panel believes we’re reaching a tipping point in intercollegiate athletics, and the tipping point comes now because so much revenue pouring into intercollegiate athletics and the budgets for universities’ academic programs have been so tight in the past few years that it’s out of balance,” Rawlings said. “The balance between academics and athletics are perilously close to going over to a tipping point where I think the trend is simply not sustainable.”
Webster’s defines “tipping point” as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” We may not be close, but already there.