Charles Alan Wright, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas Law School, was from 1973 to 1983 a member or chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, and in 1982-83 he served on the NCAA's Select Committee on Athletic Problems and Concerns in Higher Education. He also was a longtime member of the University of Texas's Athletics Council. Wright herewith offers a detailed, point-by-point response to SI's "A Plan For Cleaning Up College Sports," which ran in the Sept. 30 issue after revelations of widespread wrongdoing in the Southwest Conference, to which Wright's university belongs. (SI's 10 proposals are numbered and in capital letters.)
1. SHARPLY LIMIT THE NUMBER OF ATHLETES ACCEPTED AS SPECIAL CASES. This should be done, but I also think, contrary to what SI said, that Proposition 48 is still needed. Proposition 48, passed by the NCAA in 1983 and due to take effect next summer, requires that entering athletes can be eligible as freshmen only if they have been able to achieve a set minimum score on standardized national tests and a minimum high school grade-point average. The establishment of such minimum standards is a positive step. There are institutions that have no admissions requirement for students other than a high school diploma. Surely they should not be allowed to recruit every fleet-footed running back and 7'2" basketball player with an IQ of 80 simply because he has been graduated by an inferior school system that believes in "social promotion." Proposition 48 would ensure against this, and prevent the inevitable academic failure such athletes would otherwise encounter once they reach college.
The SI recommendation—a limit on the use of special-admissions programs for athletes—would still be useful because most colleges have significantly higher standards than those that are established by Proposition 48. Without a limit on special admits, a coach could welcome aboard an entire squad of students who meet the rock-bottom criteria of Proposition 48. Such behavior would be in direct violation of the academic spirit of the proposal.
2. MAKE FRESHMEN INELIGIBLE FOR VARSITY SPORTS. I agree 100 percent, at least regarding football and basketball, and am sad that so few college presidents concur. Our NCAA Select Committee went back and forth on this issue, and eventually called for freshman ineligibility in football and basketball. The two coaches on the committee, Lou Holtz and Dean Smith, were the most outspoken in arguing that freshmen ought not be eligible. Lou said that during the season—with films, game plans, practice and all the rest—players at some schools spent as much as seven hours a day on football-related matters. If freshmen were ineligible and unconcerned with Saturday's game, only three hours a day would go to football. Those extra four hours could be a big help to a young man trying to make the jump from high school to college.
November 11, 1985
I should note that entering athletes who do not meet the criteria of Proposition 48, but still wish to attend college, can do so, though they are ineligible to compete in their freshman year. Why then do I advocate both Proposition 48 and ineligibility for freshmen? Because 48 is about to take effect, whereas there is no realistic prospect that the NCAA will rule freshmen ineligible anytime soon. Give me freshman ineligibility and I will gladly urge the repeal of 48.
3. INSIST ON SATISFACTORY PROGRESS TOWARD A DEGREE. Hear! Hear!
4. MAKE SPORTS LESS TIME-CONSUMING. I think it was a mistake to go from 10 to 11 games in football. And it's a mistake to sanction so many bowl games—for many teams, football has a 12-game season. There are also far too many games in basketball and baseball. I am less sanguine about whether it is realistic to consider reducing in-season demands on time invested by athletes in their sports. Still, I wish it could be done.
5. GUARANTEE SCHOLARSHIPS. I favor SI's recommendation of granting a fifth year on a scholarship, which would help a player who has used up his eligibility to still get his degree. I have mixed feelings about returning to the four-year scholarship from the current year-to-year renewal policy, as SI suggested. SI argued, "Scholarships should be awarded to athletes for four years, with no strings attached: An athlete could keep his scholarship no matter how much or how little he plays." Yes, there are instances when the four-year deal could be beneficial. I know a young man who was recruited as a quarterback in the mid-'50s. He was injured during his freshman year, and the doctors said he shouldn't play varsity football anymore. Without the continuing scholarship, he could not have finished college. With it, he graduated from Texas, came to our law school (and passed the football splendidly for my intramural touch team, the Legal Eagles) and is now a successful lawyer in San Antonio. However, I have heard people I respect highly, such as former Texas coach Darrell Royal, tell how frustrating it is to give a four-year scholarship to a young man, then have him laugh at you as he drops out of football the first week of his freshman year.
6. TIE THE NUMBER OF SCHOLARSHIPS TO GRADUATION RATES. SI said, "A school gets its full number of free rides only if the graduation rate for athletes approximates that of the regular student body." I am very much in favor of this. It is fairly complicated to work out, but I remember that our NCAA Select Committee was presented with a plan that interested all of us and that was strongly supported by some of us. It is a possibility. It can be done.
7. ABOLISH ATHLETIC DORMITORIES. Absolutely!
8. ABOLISH ANABOLIC STEROIDS. A controversial area in which I do not feel well enough informed to make a statement.
9. ELIMINATE TRIVIAL ECONOMIC RULES. SI said that the ban against athletes taking jobs during the school year should be abolished, and "the sole payment made to college athletes [by their schools] should be their scholarships." On the whole, I do not agree with SI's position. I do not like the idea of athletes taking jobs during the school year. With classes, homework and sports, I think they have more than enough to do as it is. And I fear that many of these "jobs" would become devices for paying players who are doing little, if any, work. I would much prefer being open about this and providing spending money—perhaps $50 a month—as part of an athletic scholarship.
Nor do I favor repealing what SI called Mickey Mouse rules. SI argued, "Prohibitions against giving a recruit a T shirt or a lift in a car are trivial and impossible to enforce.... It's hard to believe anybody would actually be influenced in his choice of an institution of higher learning by a free T shirt." At one NCAA infractions committee hearing, when somebody made that argument, I said that my experience had persuaded me that even the smallest things may be decisive in the final, sometimes irrational selection of a school by a heavily recruited young person. Ron Stratten, a former football coach who was then assistant director of enforcement for the NCAA, told us that he was a perfect example of this. He chose to attend Oregon because he liked the color of its jerseys!
10. MAKE IT ILLEGAL FOR A BOOSTER TO OFFER MONEY TO COLLEGE ATHLETES. I completely disagree with SI, which conceded that nobody wants governmental involvement in sports but suggested that federal legislation "may be needed." I am so opposed to such involvement that nothing could persuade me that bringing the FBI or the federal courts into athletics is a good idea. If institutions of higher learning cannot police their own athletic programs, then they ought to follow the lead of Father John LoSchiavo, the president of the University of San Francisco, and Tulane president Eamon Kelly and discontinue the offending athletics program, rather than rely on the criminal law to save them from themselves.
Some people have suggested that the university might sue a run-amok booster for damages: If a school can assess the revenues it has lost due to NCAA sanctions because of transgressions by a booster, the school can try to recover that loss from the booster. I like this idea better than bringing criminal law into an area where, in my opinion, it does not belong. Still, I do not plan to hold my breath while someone works out a legal theory on which such a lawsuit would rest, or one on how to collect the millions of dollars that a college on probation suffers when it's penalized for the behavior of its boosters.