January 12, 2012 • Athletic Administration

Editorial Sums Up Recent Scandals In College Sports

This article originally ran in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel  on Dec. 24, 2011. It is by Martin J. Greenberg, a Milwaukee attorney and adjunct professor of law at Marquette University Law School. It is a thought-provoking piece about all the recent scandals in college sports and what is the future of collegiate athletics.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial (reprinted with permission)

By: Martin J. Greenberg

The year just ending has been a year of Coverup U in college athletics, and that is troubling.

In December of 2010, five Ohio State University football players were suspended after it was discovered that they received cash and discounted tattoos for memorabilia from the owner of a local tattoo parlor, who was the subject of a felony drug trafficking and money laundering investigation.

In April of 2010, head football coach Jim Tressel became aware of the indiscretions, which constituted NCAA violations for preferential treatment and the receipt of extra benefits. Tressel failed to report the information to his superiors, filed a false certification of compliance with the NCAA and played those student athletes in intercollegiate competition who were technically ineligible. Tressel resigned in May and is the subject of an NCAA show-cause order that will keep him out of the college football ranks for at least five years.

For nine years, Penn State officials allegedly kept a sordid secret and supported former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky allegedly sexually assaulted and preyed on innocent children – eight victims in 15 years, and there was no legal reporting of such abuses to the appropriate authorities. The extent of the potential criminal penalties and civil damages to Penn State and its officials are inestimable.

Coverups have stained and embarrassed two signature athletic programs during 2011, but OSU and Penn State are the exceptions – aberrations, if you will – and not the rule. The locker room mentality – whatever you see and hear in here, stays in here – prevailed.

I hope coverups are not becoming part of a corrupt culture in which drug and liquor violations, forcible sexual offenses, rescinded scholarships, aggravated assaults and petty thefts are swept under the rug.

I hope coverups are not a message that a different code of conduct is applicable to athletes than all other enrolled students. NCAA rules violations and sanctions, compromised judgments and booster and agent indiscretions continue to be common occurrences that leave indelible marks on big-time college athletic programs.

College athletics is big business. Athletic directors and power coaches are CEOs of multimillion-dollar enterprises. Television, cable contracts, merchandising, naming rights, enhanced seating and championship games have become as important in the college game as they are to its pro brethren.

Sports-generated revenue is becoming even more important as a result of state budget cuts to higher education. In many universities, spending on high profile sports is growing at double or triple the pace of spending on academics.

Universities are protected places where young minds are educated to become our future scholars and leaders. In light of Coverup U, questions must be raised:

Who runs our universities – university officials or athletic administrators?

Is the sports money machine winning?

Has the big-time sports enterprise become an unchecked fiefdom where almost anything will be undertaken to protect the brand, the image, the name, the heroes, the dollars and anything that might interfere with the scoreboard?

Is Coverup U a signal that today there may be more concern for guarding the school’s reputation for ethical behavior than actually exhibiting some?

We need to rethink the amateur enterprise. The positive virtues and aspects of amateur athletics, which include boosting pride in the institution, strengthening ties to alumni, creating educational opportunities for students who might not otherwise have the chance, competition, participation, physical development and socialization are being overshadowed by the demand for sports-generated dollars.

As Myles Brand, former NCAA president once said, “University athletic programs run the risk of becoming captives of commercialism and the entertainment culture. Universities must be judged by their achievement as academic institutions, not as sports franchises.” College athletics must not become the minor leagues for the pros.

It is most difficult to claim incorruptibility when you’re selling out for greed.

Transparency, oversight, academic priorities and public accountability need to be the guideposts. Athletic programs need to take a step back and realize what their role is in the collegiate setting – an ancillary and extracurricular activity intended to enhance an educational experience.

Martin J. Greenberg is a Milwaukee attorney and adjunct professor of law at Marquette University Law School.

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