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Flickers of Light Amid Collegiate Sport’s Academically Dim World

Flickers of Light Amid Collegiate Sport’s Academically Dim World

Our Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars edition gives us an opportunity this time every year to reflect on the status of the student-athlete. A look at abysmal graduation rates of college athletes coupled with those standout scholars who are able to manage their studies and sports amazingly well are typically the two sides of the coin in the world of college athletics.

This year, we pay homage to those student-athletes who exemplify what it means to truly be both a student and an athlete — not sacrificing academics for athletics or vice versa. But with Ronald Roach’s article, “Keeping the Ashe Legacy Relevant,” as well as the “Last Word,” we also pay a special tribute to tennis great Arthur Ashe who died 10 years ago this past February. He would have been 60 years old this year. It is not difficult to see that Ashe was a special person to those whose lives he touched. People use such words as “gracious, humble, dignified and well-rounded” to describe him. Though he loved the game of tennis, Ashe was a great education advocate, which is why Black Issues In Higher Education decided, several years ago, to dedicate its Sports Scholars Award in his name.

In the world of professional sports, Ashe likely would be impressed by the “A-games” of young athletes Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams.

However, he surely would not be impressed by the abominable graduation rates that continue to plaque college athletes.

The NCAA released a report late last month, which measured whether basketball players who entered college between 1992 and 1995 had graduated within six years of beginning college. Basketball players graduated at a rate significantly lower than other male athletes on athletic scholarships and the rates were even lower for African- American male basketball players. Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, who oversaw the study, was quoted in one newspaper as saying that “for the past four years there were 50 or more Division I universities at which not a single African American basketball player had graduated.”

New leadership at the NCAA, namely its new president Myles Brand, previously the president of Indiana University, would like to institute some changes so this will not always be the case. Brand has appointed a committee to study a plan for Division I programs that base incentives and disincentives on a school’s academic performance. For example, university athletic programs that did not show academic progress could lose scholarships and could even be barred from post-season tournaments. Those that performed well would benefit — receiving a larger share of NCAA revenue. As expected, Brand’s proposal has been met with both praise and criticism. Any plan that may cut into the revenue of an athletic program is going to be met with powerful resistance.

University presidents Drs. Nannerl Keohane and John Hennessy of Duke and Stanford universities respectively, wrote an article that originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year. The two presidents wrote, “…we are not alone among university presidents who feel increasing tension between our educational mission and the powerhouse of intercollegiate sports.”

Among several recommendations, Keohane and Hennessy suggest toughening eligibility requirements for incoming students; developing sanctions with “real teeth” for programs that fail to achieve reasonable graduation rates; and establishing legislation to control the “voluntary” practices, workouts and off-season contests that take up so much of the student-athlete’s time. They call on those university presidents who sit on NCAA governing committees to exhibit the appropriate leadership on these issues.

We at Black Issues know there are thousands of student-athletes out there that are making the grades and racking up the points. Each year, we receive hundreds of nomination forms for the Arthur Ashe award from coaches and academic advisers to prove it. Our top female and male scholars of the year, Kara Lawson and Nathan Irvin, are two of those student-athletes. Both standouts in their respective sports — basketball and track and field — Lawson has WNBA and law school aspirations, and Irvin appears bound for medical school. We, at the magazine, wish both these graduating seniors well, congratulating them and all of the 2003 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholars.




Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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