Editorial: Trouble in the huddle
College athletics is again in the spotlight of national media attention, but not for the college basketball season that is winding up for March Madness or for the great bowl season that football fans enjoyed in the past few months. Instead, the world of college athletics is again mired in a controversy concerning illicit recruiting and sexual misconduct at the University of Colorado.
The problems began when potential recruits to the school, located in Boulder, Col., alleged that they were entertained by current team members who took them to strip clubs and arranged sex parties at houses and apartments around campus. Apparently, this entertainment was paid for by the Colorado athletic department, though it remains unclear whether the school or coaches knew exactly what the money was being used for.
But isn’t that a question that everyone should be asking? Is it enough for Coach Gary Barnett, who has been suspended pending investigation, and the rest of his staff to simply say that they didn’t know what was going on? Isn’t it, in fact, their responsibility to know what was going on when a high school student comes to their school to visit at their request? The argument that they didn’t know, while not as damning as the possibility that the staff approved these types of activities, looks bad enough.
Then, after these accusations came to light, another problem arose at the school as former Buffalo placekicker Katie Hnida alleged that she was raped by teammates while she was at the University of Colorado. Once this was made public, Barnett’s reaction was both enigmatic and unacceptable from a publicly employed individual who is charged with the supervision of young people and who is trusted by their parents to ensure that they are looked after while at college.
Rather than be outraged that his program was filled with illicit and apparently illegal activity, Barnett lashed out at the former placekicker: “It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they’ll respect you. Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There’s no other way to say it.”
Is this really the proper response to accusations that players on your team raped and sexually assaulted another person? And let’s not forget about the three other women who allege that UC football players raped them at a party in 2001.
The scary thing is that such incidents are almost certainly not limited to the University of Colorado. College athletes all across the nation are put on a pedestal and made to feel that they are invincible. Their on-field heroics, however, can often translate into off-field disasters, and the problems in Colorado are probably just the tip of the iceberg.
In a profession where so much pressure is put on coaches to win – because there is so much money for the schools to make from a winning football program – the business of college athletics seems to have overshadowed any concerns about the athletes and students who participate in the sports or who are affected when the prestige of their school takes a hit.
And make no mistake, despite what NCAA president Myles Brand said, college sports is a business. Brand, who was formerly the president of Indiana University said, “College sports is not a business. It’s about educating young men and women in the field and in the classroom.” If that is the case, why are coaches fired for losing? Why do teams work so hard to make it to big bowl games with huge payoffs? Why is nearly every aspect of college athletics corporately sponsored in some way? In the words of Bob Knight, head basketball coach at Texas Tech and former coach at Indiana, “If it isn’t a business, then General Motors is a charity.”
The point is that something must be done. The damage to the public image of college sports is bad enough, but the coaches and administrators in charge of these programs must also remember that running sports like a business can ultimately hurt the athletes who are supposed to be the benefactors of the programs.