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IDEMA: MSU sexual abuse scandal: what is not being debated

• Mar 21, 2018 at 3:00 PM

I am not going to rehash the problems at Michigan State University and all the threats, denials and incompetence of administrators and coaches. What I want to debate with you is the underlying problem which led to this scandal and so many others in college sports.

For example, the FBI has uncovered recently that many basketball players, allegedly, have been paid cash to play in violation of NCAA rules, including at Michigan State, Duke, Notre Dame and many others. And Louisville was just stripped of its 2013 NCAA basketball title for cheating.

I believe the underlying problem with college sports is an emphasis on the part of the schools to win, and this emphasis has led to a culture of winning at any cost. Young female athletes at MSU, when they reported Larry Nassar's sexual abuse to certain trainers and coaches, were threatened with the ruination of their careers and the destruction of the reputation of both the school and a deified doctor. Nassar's crimes could have been stopped in the 1990s, but the women who did report Nassar's crimes were not taken seriously, sometimes by even the parents of these young women.

I think it is time to debate the premise of the whole system, that academic institutions are paying athletes to play for them. In order to win, many schools accept many players who are unqualified academically for their universities, or any university for that matter.

How many players could be accepted at Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan, along with Michigan State, Ohio State or Alabama, if they had to apply like everyone else? I doubt many, especially in football and basketball.

Moreover, with this incredible emphasis on winning, schools also take players of questionable character. The sexual abuse on the campuses of the football factories has been a real problem. Drinking and sports also can become a lethal combination. Tailgating often leads to a drunken stadium atmosphere, and drinking on that scale can lead to sexual abuse on a campus after the game. Moreover, some players think they are entitled not just to money but sex, as well.

In my view, the whole system needs to be dismantled. If sex scandals, pay to play, the exorbitant salaries paid to coaches, sexual abuse, and the presence on campuses of athletes of not only questionable character but also questionable academic qualifications are not all enough to strengthen my argument for change, then what will it take?

In a sense, this is all about money, greed and cheating to win. It is all about throwing meat to the alums whose lives are far too emotionally invested in kids playing a kid’s sport.

Here are the changes I would like to see made:

(1) Get rid of the professional athletes in the sports programs on college campuses. No more full-ride scholarships and money for playing a sport. Stop all recruiting, too. Open up the sports to the entire student body. This is how things were before World War II.

(2) All scholarships from a school should be based solely on academic qualifications and financial need.

(3) Coaches should make salaries of a junior faculty member, or be a faculty member themselves who coach for the love the sport.

(4) Let the pros then set up their own development leagues for athletes and stop using schools for their farm teams.

If sports on our campuses were for the students, not the pros, they would become much more interesting. In the latest recruiting battles, Georgia signed eight five-star recruits, and Ohio State once again signed a basket full of future pros. So, there will not be much of a mystery about the top four or five top teams in football next fall.

College sports would be much more interesting and enjoyable if teams were put together from students who wanted to play for the joy of it, not for the financial return.

My wished-for changes probably will never happen because of this emphasis on winning and the accepted practice of spending whatever amount of money it takes on coaches and players to win.

The University of Chicago realized decades ago that it could not be both a sports and academic powerhouse at the same time. They got rid of football, and have had 90 Nobel Prize winners. The football powerhouses sometimes produce one, but that is rare.

What should be the chief priorities for our beloved universities? I would argue that academics should be the emphasis, not sports, which are played by well-recruited and well-paid athletes, coached by well-recruited and well-paid men and women (mostly men) who often make millions — far more than any state employee or any university president!

— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist

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