Topic: Professions & Institutions
The NCAA Shows Its Loyalties
Hurricane Katrina is proving to be a veritable ethics exam for all segments of American society. Among those who have flunked: the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its member institutions.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because the NCAA is having quite a year. Having totally disgraced itself by its paternalistic, illogical and silly ruling against college teams with Native American mascots, it now has shown how much it cares about students by deciding to sacrifice the welfare of student athletes to the interests of their colleges’ athletic programs. Hurricane Katrina’s destruction has caused many colleges and universities to close, putting students in a tight spot. The solution to their dilemma is obvious: transfer somewhere else. This will work fine if a student was attending Tulane to become a doctor, lawyer or historian, but if his goal was to play in the NBA, the NCAA says he’s out of luck. If a student athlete transfers to another school to play Division 1 football or basketball, the NCAA has ruled that the student must sit out the year and not compete.
Why? It seems that the athletic association is worried about “athletic looting’ by its members, with colleges plucking promising jocks from colleges shut down by Katrina to beef up their own teams. A spokesman for the NCAA explained that some coaches at hurricane-affected schools in and around New Orleans had complained to the governing body that coaches at non-hurricane ravaged schools were trying to persuade elite Gulf Coast athletes to continue their education at someplace that would actually be playing sports in 2006. Can’t have that! So the NCAA has eliminated the problem–that is, the schools’ problem, not the student athletes’–by declaring that the athletes can’t play their sports this year either way: by staying at their shattered college, now gymless and unable to complete a season, or by transferring. The NCAA is making the students suffer to protect its members’ athletic prospects for next year.
Ethics often involves balancing outcomes to achieve the fairest result, and this decision shows grotesquely warped values. Colleges exist for the students, not the alumni, not the athletic program, not the coaches, not the TV contracts. A disruption of a school’s athletic program for a year is a setback, but if students can minimize its impact on their aspirations by transferring, the college and the NCAA should do everything it can to assist them, not block their way. Students who don’t want to lose a year of study can transfer elsewhere and continue their education, because, fortunately, there’s no regulatory body that considers its primary mission to prevent member colleges from losing academic star power when students choose to change institutions. But thanks to the NCAA, a student athlete has no options because that Association’s highest priority is protecting its members, not its members’ students.
Both the NCAA and its member colleges are culpable for this wretched decision, and let’s hope that one of the athletes affected finds a pit-bull lawyer who can make the Association see the error of its ways. The Scoreboard also urges athletes affected by this ruling to transfer anyway. When colleges view the success of their athletic programs as more important than the students who make them successful, something is seriously out of whack in the ethical perceptions of those who run college sports.
But we already knew that, didn’t we?