Monday, September 27, 2010

Will tough NCAA stance on rule breaking make educational difference? Or just better relations with the pros?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

The NCAA is getting tough on rule-breakers. This year, the NCAA hit Southern Cal with a two-year bowl and loss of 20 scholarships after football star Reggie Bush and basketball standout O.J. Mayo were caught accepting gifts from outside promoters. It’s the toughest penalty in years.

Incoming NCAA president Mark Emmert told the Associated Press that he recognizes how much temptation athletes face: "Around elite athletes, there are always people who see an opportunity to make money in the future, so the opportunities for those things are sort of omnipresent and what the university president and athletic directors have to do is be as rigorous as they can with what the university stands for, their values and be very attentive to it.”

Harsh penalties are designed to encourage other athletic departments to work harder to prevent problems from occurring. "The key is trying to get the penalties to line up with the bad behavior and getting others to change so that they play within the rules," Emmert said. The NCAA has nearly doubled the number of investigators since 2003. Emmert says he may cut the NCAA’s staff of almost 500, but not it’s 23-person enforcement unit.

One of Emmert’s ideas is to create a points system for rule breakers, so that coaches and others involved in illicit activity cannot simply move on to another place, leaving the university behind with the penalties.

Some of his proposals include working with the NBA to create a baseball-style draft rule. Currently, NBA teams cannot draft high school players but can draft college players after their first year, which has encouraged many star players to take a “one and done” college career. A baseball-style draft rule would allow high school players to be drafted, but require those that are not drafted to commit to college for a set period of time before they can be drafted.

"I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they've got to play for three years or until they're 21," Emmert, who is leaving the University of Washington to take the helm of the NCAA, said in a radio interview with KJR. "I like that a good deal.

"But what you have to also recognize is that rule isn't an NCAA rule…. That's a rule of the NBA. And it's not the NBA itself, but the NBA Players Association. So to change that rule will require me and others working with the NBA, working with the players association."

Emmert has also had discussions with the NFL and its union about illicit activity by sports agents. Emmert believes working closely with pro sports leagues and players unions will help clean up the environment of sport. “Emmert said it’s all part of a bigger plan to help police everything from unsavory agents to schools that ignore the rules,” the AP reported.

One question arises from Emmert's plan to get tough on schools and coaches, however. The purpose of college sport is supposed to be education. Is this new approach by the NCAA going to create a better environment for education of athletes? Or is it designed to improve the NCAA's position as a farm system for professional sports?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says about Emmert’s plan to get tough.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How early should kids turn pro?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

Lera Solovieva was 11 years old when Norman Canter of Renaissance Tennis Management signed her to a professional contract. As The New York Times reports, Renaissance Tennis spent $650,000 bringing the young Russian girl to Miami to live and train. Four years later, she’s back in Russia, her career derailed by injuries.

But Cantor and other agents continue to cruise the junior tennis circuit looking for the next big thing. Rafael Nadal signed a professional contract when he was only 13.

However, few of the best junior athletes will become a top men’s or women’s player. About one-percent become a top 10 player. So the agents are playing a numbers game, signing 100 young athletes in hopes that one or two will become marketable stars.

Many of the young athletes will make very little money for themselves. According to the Times, these young professionals get free equipment and clothing from sponsors. They may get a $1,000 bonus for winning a tournament or $25,000 for rising into the rankings of the top 100. Most of the money, probably more than $100,000 per year, is spent on high-caliber coaching, travel and expenses.

In addition, little is known about the risks that young athletes face when they begin intensive training in one sport early in life. Some sports medicine experts say young athletes should be discouraged from "playing through the pain," because overuse injuries in growing children may create permanent damage. One study of high school students showed that those who played sports all year long had a 42% increased chance of overuse injury compared to those who took at least one season off.

Patrick McEnroe, general manager for the United States Tennis Association’s player development program, says this actually weakens American tennis. “The bottom line is, we lost a generation of players the last 10 years that should have gone to college but didn’t,” he told The New York Times.

Some top young tennis players, such as 17-year-old Jack Sock, have refused to accept bonuses or prize money because they want to maintain college eligibility. However, Sock’s choice has required sacrifices from his family.

Is this a good model for treatment of young athletes? If it is, we may expect it would work in other sports. Imagine some basketball players turning pro at age 11 or 12. In some nations, it may already work that way. Kentucky basketball recruit Enes Kantor, 18, has been under professional contract in Turkey for three years already, according to published reports.

Jeremy Tyler turned professional prior to his senior year in high school in San Diego, signing with a basketball team in Israel. However, he failed to last the season and returned home, his NBA prospects fading. Now he's off to Japan, trying to resurrect a career that for most athletes would just be getting started.

If that rule were applied in basketball, 100 players would turn professional in high school and lose their chance at a college scholarship. But only a handful of them — perhaps only one or two — would actually become a professional star. If we value education of young people more than we value professional sport, that seems a high price to pay.

Thinking of Reggie Bush: Make coaches pay when athletes violate NCAA rules

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for Ethics

Published reports said in early September that Reggie Bush could be stripped of his Heisman Trophy because he accepted gifts and cash while he was playing football for the University of Southern California. A week later, the New Orleans running back announced he would relenquish his trophy. The 2005 Heisman, which Bush called "one of the greatest honors of my life," was being erased along with all his other college honors.

Georgia wide receiver A. J. Green has been suspended for four games for selling a game jersey for $1,000, which was a violation of NCAA rules that prohibit players from selling memorabilia. Georgia, without Green, lost to rival South Carolina, putting his team in a must win situation if it hopes to compete in the SEC.

College athletes are expected to resist all financial rewards for playing. Their compensation is tuition, books, room and board. Yet they see the institutions and the coaches of college sport make huge amounts of money. In Georgia, for instance, Head Coach Mark Richt makes $3 million per year. At USC during the Bush years, Head Coach Pete Carroll made more than $4 million.

The problems are clear from a rules-based perspective. If Bush and Green failed to abide by NCAA rules, they are subject to sanctions. They are expected to know the NCAA rules — all 434 pages. Before they play NCAA athletics, they’re must sign documents to that effect.
However, a rules-based perspective may be blind to the real world of college athletes. A rules-based system assumes athletes know the rules, even if they probably don’t. One athlete at the University of Idaho described his introduction to NCAA rules where school officials sat him down with a pile of documents: “They said if you don’t sign, you can’t play. So you sign.” When we recently asked a group of athletes in class if they actually read the documents before signing them, none of them had.

In an educational institution, one might expect to see some educational program surrounding the rules, one where students learn about the reasoning and principles behind the rules. At the very least, we might expect that training in the rules is provided to athletes before they’re asked to sign them. Wouldn’t it be better to spend time teaching athletes about the principles and responsibilities they’re expected to uphold rather than wait until someone catches the next Reggie Bush taking money from an agent or booster. In the absence of such an educational program, it would appear that the rules — and the signing ritual demanded of athletes — are mostly for a tool to penalize athletes after they err.

Bush and Green may not understand, but the people who paid the real penalty for the violations are other students. They’re the ones who lose their opportunities to win a scholarship or play in a bowl game. When Green takes $1,000 for a shirt, his teammates suffer because they must play without him in several big games. If Bush and Green had learned to think about how others will be affected by their decisions, they may have come to a different conclusion. However, if all they think about are the “rules,” they may believe, as they do in games, that all is well if the referee fails to spot the violation.

How about creating models of ethical behavior within sports programs and making coaches responsible for the behavior of their athletes? No one is saying that athletes shouldn't be held personally responsible for their behavior, but they should not be held solely responsible. Any program that asks students to lie before they can play the game — in other words, asks them to sign a document saying they read and understand the rules, when they don’t — provides a poor ethical model. When coaches accept millions for work done by athletes who get almost nothing, they’re telling athletes that sport is not fair or just. The huge disparity in benefits between the coach and the athlete may encourage some to seek professional benefits before they’re truly professionals.

Of course, if the coach was required to give back some of those millions if members of his team are found to be violating NCAA rules, perhaps the coach would may more attention. Here’s a thought for institutions: If you give bonuses to coaches when they’re athletes win games, why not ask coaches to personally take responsibility when their athletes violate NCAA rules? Would that encourage them to educate their athletes about making good ethical decisions?

Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says on the issue:

Friday, September 3, 2010

How old did you say you were?

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

When a 21-year-old man posed as a 14-year-old boy and signed up for a youth football league in Florida, a few people were suspicious. But “Chad Jordan” had turned in all the appropriate paperwork, including a birth certificate. Now, however, the document appears to have been a fake.

Because the coach had some vague suspicions, he launched an investigation to find out if Jordan was who he said he was — a young man whose parents had died and who was now being raised by an older brother. Only after contacting people from Jordan’s neighborhood did the coach discover that Jordan was actually Julius Threatts, age 21, a young man on probation for burglary charges.

A similar case came to light earlier this year, when a 21-year-old in Texas posed as a 15-year-old Haitian orphan and enrolled in high school. In that case, he was adopted by the basketball coach, named Newcomer of the Year in district basketball competition and helped lead the high school to the state playoffs. Later, the athlete was charged with sexual assault when for having sex with a minor — a 15-year-old girl who thought the boy was also 15.

Then there was the 22-year-old in Arizona last year who posed as a high school student in hopes of winning a basketball scholarship. He was later charged with three counts of forgery and 11 counts of sexual conduct with a minor.

There are ethical reasons why 21-year-olds should not compete with 14-year-olds. It’s not fair when someone with seven more years of growth and experience takes the field against younger players. The added physical development of bone, muscle, and coordination may also increase the physical dangers for younger opponents, even if the athletes are roughly the same size. Joining a league of younger players also requires deceiving coaches, teammates and competitors.
What great temptation drives some older athletes to try to recreate themselves as someone half their age? The idea of older people who still look young returning to high school has been glamorized in such movies as “Never Been Kissed” and “Hiding Out.” In general, lying about one’s age is not uncommon.

One could argue that in a sport where outcomes are more important than process, and where deception is commonly accepted as part of the process, athletes may get the idea that it’s wrong only if they get caught. Coaches may not be highly motivated to track down the truth about their best players, particularly when false documentation exists. Many teammates may be happy to have a stronger, more experienced player on their side.

Then whose duty is it to enforce these off the field rules? What responsibility do teammates, coaches and the athlete themselves have to ensure that truth is told?

Here's what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll says: