Monday, December 2, 2013

A Hard-Hitting History of University of California-Berkeley Athletics

John Cummins and Kristen Hextrum of the University of California-Berkeley have written an insightful, and rather depressing, history of the history of athletics at Cal (The Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkley:  Turning Points and Consequenceshere in PDF). A university known for its excellent academics and research, Cal is also among the most severely sanctioned NCAA schools and has a long history of strife, mismanagement and poor overall performance in athletics. Over the years the University has subsidized athletics with more than $170 million.

Cummins and Hextrum write:
With a new Chancellor, a new football coach, a new stadium and high performance center, a larger and more monied  conference, the present surely marks a transitional period for intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley. These changes all signal Cal’s continued escalation as a Big-Time sports program, and the difficult dilemmas campus administrators face. To fund an  intercollegiate program of this magnitude they cannot alienate a substantial donor base. The recent blowback after the  elimination, and subsequent reinstatement of five varsity sports, makes the possibility of cutting sports again as a cost saving  measure extremely remote for years to come. Further, the athletic deficit places enormous pressures to win. This increases the temptation to gain an extra edge on the competition whether through newer facilities, higher-paid coaches, or longer practices.  All this must be achieved on the backs of student athletes who are enrolled in a full-time course load at one of the most  prestigious academic universities in the world. Rather than resolving the dilemma of how to maintain a nearly $70 million per  year athletic enterprise while still providing a world class education for the participants, campus administrators continue to  muddle through.

The authors believe the campus can, and should, address the dilemmas presented by modern college sports. As universities  across the nation continue to expand intercollegiate athletics so does the magnitude of criminal and ethical misconduct. Recent scandals of coaching abuse at Penn State University and Rutgers University and academic integrity violations at the University of North Carolina should serve as harsh warnings to UC Berkeley. After the firing of Rutgers’s coach Mike Rice, The Chronicle of Higher Education warned that college chancellors and athletic directors should stop waiting until a moment of crisis to articulate their institutions core values. Instead, universities must be proactive and re-focus efforts on educating students, or else they will continue to be plagued by scandals (Wolverton, 2013). This is precisely why UC Berkeley must stop muddling through . . . 
Of particular interest to me was this reference to the importance of having an academic unit on campus focused on sport:
Considering the current state of intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley, the campus is at a crucial turning point. External forces and internal decisions are pushing the program away from the central campus and making it function strictly as a business. The campus has a choice. It can allow that direction to continue or it can take action to integrate the program more fully into its central educational mission. Currently, a given Chancellor, athletic director or even a powerful football coach can exert major influence over the program. There is no current campus policy delineating the values of the intercollegiate program and how those values are to be interpreted and implemented. The laissez-faire, muddling through approach has resulted in a growing and successful program accompanied by scandals, NCAA violations, considerable deficits, internal conflict, ambiguity, poor graduation rates and isolation from the campus. Would it not be wise to clarify the campus position in more detail so Chancellors, athletic directors, coaches, student athletes and alumni/donors knew where they stood vis-à-vis campus values and priorities?

In the opinion of the authors, sports could play a substantial, beneficial role for the entire university community. Right now, there is no academic unit on the campus related to sports. Every student admitted under special action policy as a result of special talent, with the exception of athletes, has some related academic home such as theater, dance, music, etc. As this paper demonstrates, sports in this country and throughout the world have undergone enormous transformation in the past 35 years. Sports and its various manifestations are undoubtedly worthy of study. Several universities, including some of UC Berkeley’s peers, have academic programs in sports management, sports law, and sports science.
I wonder if there has been any similar analysis for my university here in Boulder.


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