A few years ago, my now 21 year old daughter was a Division 1 student-athlete. She was a soccer player. As an 18 year old freshman, she had to be to university August 10th. Non-athletic freshmen did not have to be to tschool for at least two weeks after. The fall semester consisted of 16 weeks. Of those 16 weeks, the team traveled nine weekends, leaving campus Thursday or Friday and returning late Sunday night. The conference tournament weekend found the team leaving campus on Wednesday afternoon.
Prior to going to freshmen orientation in July, my daughter received an email from the soccer coach. She should try to be done with classes by 2 pm daily. She should have as few classes as possible on Fridays. Her department – her major at the time was sport management – accommodated the suggestions from her coach as best they could. She ended up taking upper level classes to be a full-time student and have practice time free.
This same fall, at her university, members of the basketball team made national news. They had beaten a baseball player, almost unconscious, in the parking lot of a local bar.
Three decades prior to that fall, I began attending a major football powerhouse – yes, a Division 1 university that would today be an FBS school that plays in a BCS conference. As a work-study job, I became a tutor for the athletic department. I traveled to the other campus, five miles from the main campus, every week night to attend study hall with the football team. I was there to teach, to proofread, to help. I was not there to do the athletes’ assignments for them.
I offer all of the above to show what various Division 1 schools do and to show what sometimes happens. The stories are by no means complete but offer more than on point of view.
The past months our local university and its athletic department have been in the news regularly. First, the basketball team makes the national news over a year ago as one member allegedly beat another student into a coma. Then, another team member is arrested for shoplifting condoms at WalMart. The issues with the players continued with, as far as the public could see, little disciplinary action on the parts of the basketball coach, the athletic department, or the university administration.
As if to prove their worth, the basketball team had its best season ever. It went to the NCAA tournament, the Big Dance. Just as the team is set to play its first ever NCAA tournament game, two more athletic department “problems” surfaced – sexual harassment allegations from a development associate and grade fixing/changing allegations by an adjunct professor.
The team lost its tournament game. The news died down until this week. One player was arrested for alleged drug possession. He was kicked off the team the next day. The following day five additional players were removed from the team. The adjunct professor’s contract was not renewed for the next calendar year. The athletic director resigned, due to the sexual harassment allegations.
What went wrong with Binghamton University and its athletic department?
First what Binghamton University is experiencing would be best described as growing pains. The move from Division 3 to Division 1 had gone smoothly and quickly, perhaps too quickly. To make the basketball program competitive, an assistant coach from a Division 1 powerhouse was hired. yet, to the public eye, there were no other supports in place. Support systems that occur at all levels of collegiate athletics include an academic advisor who deals with student-athletes only, a mandatory study hall so that class work can be made up when missed.
Student-athletes are not required to attend study halls, if they exist, at Binghamton University. This is a common support system as frequently athletes miss classes. Almost as frequently, athletes may be admitted under a “special talent” waiver, meaning they do not meet admission requirements. Study halls help the student who may not be able to catch up on those missed classes on his or her own and also help the student who may not be as ready as other students for the workload.
the athletic department needs to place limits on special talent waivers. Of the six students who were removed from the basketball team, all six were scholarship players. I wonder how many actually met the admission requirements. I will tell you right now Binghamton University is not an easy school to get in to. One of my children – an average mid-80’s student with close to 1200 SAT scores – was rejected. Even a student that is allowed into university on a special talent waiver must understand that he or she must comply with all classroom rules, including attendance requirements.
President Lois DeFleur is cleaning house. She has sent a letter to all Binghamton University students. Many will feel her actions are overreacting. I say she is not doing enough. Binghamton University must set up a support system that allows its student-athletes to learn and to compete. Conducting a study and having an outside audit of NCAA compliance will not help if there are not actions put into place.