Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Bruce S. Howard: Is Public Education Still a Good Investment?

The news media and college athletes just can’t get their act together.

Early this month I began to write an article on USC’s golf team. It was filed on my timetable, with my mock NCAA tournament entries to be entered into the Sunday papers. But when it turned out I’d spent $2500 on Nike shoes for most of my players, not to mention being reimbursed for half the gear, I changed course and turned my attention to what college sports is really all about.

At the time, the top stories in the college sports world were men’s basketball’s “March Madness” finishing off the latest Final Four, and Nelly apologizing for a “Wank Anthem.”

But the real story today is that, according to U.S. News and World Report’s latest college rankings, USC still ranks as the number one college in the country in its best of America’s top 50 program ranking.

Princeton University is rated number two. The University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania round out the top three. Yet the University of Massachusetts ranked number 50, while the University of Wisconsin-Madison ranked number 53. But they aren’t the worst schools, that’s for sure.

The NCAA isn’t doing a very good job of regulating college sports. Critics like myself say the punishment needs to be tougher when a team loses a basketball or football game due to cheating, letting athletes in other sports play in games for which they’re not eligible, or allowing athletes to gain academic credit. But alas, many believe these things are just negotiated and approved in practice, and anyone that doesn’t agree is probably just rooting for a rival.

Our schools expect the media to hammer the universities for breaking NCAA rules. Oh, and won’t even blink if a player is fired for cheating. However, when their school loses a big game to a rival, and the coach or athletic director is fired, you’re guaranteed a few crocodile tears from some college alum, and a mountain of criticism from the media.

The only other complaint I heard about Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott getting hit with a lifetime ban from all NCAA events was after Nike lawyers threatened a frivolous lawsuit if the game results were announced. But that’s how you sue America, isn’t it?

While this article got the main story out there, the reality is the actions of America’s most prestigious universities fall far short of what the administrators are entitled to, as revealed by the most recent rankings. The media, coaches, student athletes and the NCAA are to blame.

Like most games in sports, most action and action by the media involved in the college sports bubble are no more than staging going on in a basketball or football game, where fans ask dumb questions and tease the players. In the crazed college culture of five square meals a day, who cares about newshounds, cable TV stars and internet memes?

The sports media is however an integral part of it all. In the ranks of the college sports world, the focus on the power players, like players, coaches and officials, isn’t evident. Yet they influence how college sports is run, and our system is far more an extension of their power than they realize.

In my own tennis world, I have some friends that play tennis on the sand courts at my estate. They’re committed to college, and as we grew up playing together, I’ve learned that they’ve given up some good experience. I’ve also come to learn that during the playing season they’ve given up some very important control of the game, in order to play on better courts that pay better money. And believe me, they are frustrated with the situation.

I also admire my friend after a game who scored 40 goals, including 3 overtime goals. The same game? Well, there is no endorsement deal, picture at home, his wife or child. As their favorite sports journalist was going on and on about how he thought they were the best and most deserving for a promotional deal, I smiled.

It’s hard not to smile when the athletes put on the performance of their lives, for all the wrong reasons. Yet watching them give their best effort while supporting the game they love is the true measure of an athlete and a college student.

— Bruce S. Howard is a Fox News contributor.

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