Thursday, March 24, 2011

Preemptive Questions for Ralph Nader

Preemptive Questions for Ralph Nader

It is being reported by multiple media outlets that former presidential candidate Ralph Nader “is calling for the elimination of college athletic scholarships, saying the move is necessary to ‘de-professionalize’ college athletes.” Though almost completely absent of detail, the Associated Press story (they have obtained a copy prior to the official release) notes the following:

Nader argues that his plan would also help reduce the “win-at-all-costs” mentality in high schools, by reducing the incentive of college scholarships.

Additionally the piece notes:

Nader’s League of Fans, a group aimed at reforming sports, proposes that the scholarships be replaced with need-based financial aid. He says that would help restore academic integrity to college sports.

Now in fairness to Nader the context of such a statement demands self-control of the public. There could be qualifying stipulations to the argument which would not marginalize a segment of our nation’s students.

Yet there is something to be gleaned from the sparse information at hand.

First, the use of “win-at-all-costs” seems to present itself an unfair generalization of high school athletics in general. I will use football as an example.

Atlantic Coast High School was recently opened in my Jacksonville, Florida neighborhood. One of the most prominent additions that the school brought with it was a successful and well-respected football coach by the name of Kevin Sullivan. Coach Sullivan had spent the previous 11 seasons with inner-city Jackson High School, leading them to a 93-33 record over that time.

Earlier this year Sullivan was nominated for the NFL’s first annual Don Shula Coach of the Year award. St. Augustine High School coach, Joe Wiles, offered his opinion on Sullivan.

Kevin is very deserving. He does a lot with underprivileged kids and really goes out of his way. He’s relentless about getting his players into college, so that they can lead better lives. He’s always been a guy that is incredibly unselfish and all about his kids.

I am not so naive to believe that any coach is a Christ figure and may not, at times, make a decision which might lean a bit towards Nader’s qualification, but I have experienced Sullivan first hand and his philosophy is considerably student before athlete.

Should we think for one second that he is alone? What of the 28 other nominees, much less Ray Seals from Madison High School in Houston, Texas, the coach that actually won the Coach of the Year award? It is clearly unfair to diminish the accomplishments of these and other great men, and women, based on the abuses of others.

Next is the correlation between the “need” to win at the high school level and the “professional” atmosphere of college athletics. While it might look good on a coaches resume to “win-at-all-costs,” it does not necessarily follow that said coach’s focus is on getting players to the next level. A coach could just as easily sit a star player in favor of another due to personal issues and still win.

Simply put, if the coach puts the coach first there is no “incentive” beyond the want to win at the high school level.

Moving our inquiry into the collegiate realm, would Nader have us believe that ever sport at every level is run in a “professional” mind-set? What of those which do not have a payday after college like field hockey, soccer or swimming? There is certainly a degree of anticipation regarding whether Nader will group athletics at the NCAA Div-1 and Div-2 level with NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) Div-1\2 and NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) schools.

He may simply be riding the March Madness wave, but his actual targets may be disclosed in a quote from this piece:

…it’s time we step back and finally address the myth of amateurism surrounding big-time college football and basketball in this country.

Lastly, the students themselves may be the most interesting component of his proposition. Beyond the perception that Nader is framing all coaches of all sports as a problem there exists the limitation on the kids. For some, even those who might not qualify for “need-based financial aid,” the only means of attending college is through athletic scholarships.

Since Nader’s attempt is to put a greater focus on academics we should assume his position accounts for that. NCAA D-3 schools, who do not offer athletic scholarships, do offer aid for those students being recruited for athletics in the form of grants and other scholarships.

Yet even in the D-3 example the act of playing a sport still rewards the player and thereby elevates high school athletics.

It may be the case that I am simply criticizing The Last Temptations of Christ without actually seeing it. Let me be clear that it is not my purpose to render any decision.

When I first saw the release my first reaction was to applaud him for taking a stand. It would be disingenuous of us to ignore the bloated self-worth that college football and basketball carry as a proud standard, but does that warrant eliminating scholarships for all sports?

It is fair to wonder just how Nader might plan to accomplish this cleansing. At the very least I think these questions warrant answers if he is going to win us over.