Academics, Athletics and Life Skills
Avid Black Issues’ readers know that in early April we honor outstanding students of color who have excelled both in the classroom and on the court, track or field with our annual Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars Awards. The Arthur Ashe edition is a favorite of many scholar-athletes, parents, coaches and others, offering a chance to see students’ names, photos and, most importantly, hard-earned grade point averages in print. This year, we’ve put the Sports Scholars Awards on hiatus as we prepare for our 20th anniversary conference and celebration, which promises to be a memorable event.
In the meantime, we couldn’t let April go by without taking a close look at the world of academics and athletics, particularly in light of recent headlines surrounding recruiting scandals and athlete misconduct. At the center of any discussion on college sports is, of course, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is comprised of approximately 1,200 colleges and universities, athletic conferences and sports organizations.
Senior writer Ronald Roach traveled to Indianapolis during the height of March Madness to interview Dr. Myles Brand, current president of the NCAA. In Indy, Roach found Brand eager to discuss the challenges facing the organization in an era of academic reform. Brand was quite candid with Black Issues, emphasizing the actions the NCAA is taking to make sure student-athletes are just that, both students and athletes. Let’s not pretend everyone is going to be a Lebron James, Brand says, referencing the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard who bypassed college altogether for a lucrative NBA contract and endorsement deals. Among the association’s reform efforts is an “incentives/disincentives” proposal that is expected to make schools work harder to make sure their student-athletes graduate with an academic degree. When it comes to the graduation rates of athletes at many schools, there is clearly much work to be done. Just take a look at the statistics in this edition on the graduation rates of student-athletes at schools participating in March Madness.
In addition to the NCAA’s current agenda, we also wanted to look at the role of academic advising in college athletics. For an insider’s view, assistant editor Kendra Hamilton interviewed Dr. Ruth Darling, president of the board of the National Academic Advising Association and member of the NCAA academic, eligibility and compliance cabinet that advised a sweeping new set of reforms put in place in fall 2003. Darling does not waver when it comes to the importance of academics for the student-athlete. At the same time, she recognizes the adviser’s responsibility to guide the student in merging a passion for sports with one for education.
A passion for sports is undoubtedly what assistant editor Crystal Keels conveys in her story on the return of football to a number of HBCU campuses. A few years back, we looked at several schools that had recently or were in the process of restoring football programs in an effort to boost revenue or, in several cases, to increase male enrollment. In this edition, we revisit some of those schools and look at others that have followed suit. Athletic directors and coaches tout the many benefits of bringing football back, from boosting overall school spirit to increasing alumni support. The financial challenges of sustaining a football program, however, remain an issue for most. But the challenges are not enough to dismay those like Central State University Coach Theo Lemon, who is returning to CSU where he was the defensive coordinator from 1985-1990. According to Lemon, football is much more than a game, but represents a chance to develop life skills. “To return and help them restart this legacy is something I couldn’t turn down,” Lemon says.
Robin V. Smiles
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