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James Duderstadt's Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University

Posted By: Dick Hoffmann on April 11, 2002
James Duderstadt's notion to bring the athletic departments under the control of university presidents is not new. John Thelin presents this argument in his 1989 book, "The Old College Try: Balancing Academics and Athletics in Higher Education." Thelin even takes the notion a step further and advocates that athletic programs should be accredited, which would add the risk of losing accreditation to the potential sanctions if guilty of corruption.

This idea introduces a question in regards to the current policies governing intercollegiate athletics. If the goal is to integrate athletics with the educational goals of the higher education, why not accredit them? Cliff Adelman touches on this idea in his report from the National Longitudinal Study of the high school class of 1972 (NLS 72). In his 1991 report, "Light and shadows on college athletes: college transcripts and labor market history," he compares the academic performance of performing arts students with those of intercollegiate athletes, thinking the time for participation in the arts would equate to that of athletics and provide a clue toward explaining athletes' poor academic records. What he found, was that athletes perform worse than artists academically, but they out perform artists in the business world following graduation with higher salaries, employment, and home ownership. This finding is reinforced in the data reported in Bowen and Schulman's 2001 book, "The Game of Life." So athletes are learning something.

Curious and interested, I recently recorded my observations of an NCAA Division I spring football practice, and compared it to my observations of an accredited 3-hour Intermediate Ballet class. The football practice had 11 coaches, 15 graduate and student assistants, two cameramen filming, trainers, equipment managers, press coordinators...all helping teach 98 players football, approximately a 10:1 student teacher ratio with exceptional assistance. The performing arts class had a 20:1 ratio with no assistants. The differences in performance assessments, evaluation, and teaching were minimal, with the football practice probably providing learners with more feedback. However, the cognitive complexity of the tasks were seemingly much more in favor of the football practice. The repitition of ballet techniques were beautiful to watch and obviously required considerable physical effort and coordination with fellow cast members, but the football players were required to recognize key predictors from their 11-man opposing side, make dynamic reads of their formations, cover multiple assignments, and coordinate their efforts as a group with implicit signals and coded language. In short, while the ballet students were asked to repeat choreographed performances, the football players were collaboratively creating dynamic, new solutions to a spatial problem.

The other difference between these two learning experiences? One awards college credit towards a BFA degree, the other does not count for credit.

Currently the NCAA requires 12 credit hours per semester. Athletes spend 20 hours per week at practice. They spend countless hours per week in the weight room, physical therapy, studying plays, viewing scouting films, traveling to games...When do they have time to legitimately devote themselves to 12-credit hours of courses? When deciding where to allot their time, they must choose between studying reads and assignments they'll execute in front of tens of thousands of spectators and a national television audience, or studying an assignment from a Psych 101 course where the 1 professor teaches 500 other students. It's no wonder why big time athletes struggle when you consider their experience.

Dick Hoffmann
University of Southern California
Graduate Student

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 James Duderstadt's Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University by Dick Hoffmann on April 11, 2002
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