Friday, October 31, 2003

Behind the Screen

It is Tuesday night, and like many people in Chapel Hill and across the nation, Justin Morrow is doing the same thing he does nearly every weekday at 7 p.m. He is watching the news on television. Sitting in a soft, brown chair in his livingroom, he grabs the remote and turns on CNN.

“Some of the men and women now battling the California wildfires are calling it war ... right now 15 major wildfires are raging across California ... 1,500 homes have now been destroyed.”

Those words came from Anderson Cooper, who hosts “Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees,” as a photo of a burning house appears on the screen. That photo appeared on two other channels during the next half hour on Morrow’s television.

“I think I’ve seen this story 15 times today and it hasn’t gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better,” said Morrow, a senior UNC-CH business major.

A few minutes later Cooper says, “... a major suicide bombing. The U.S. military officials say the attack bared the mark of foreign terrorists. Today in Washington, the president spoke about the violence ....”

Morrow interjects, “Every day they repeat about Iraq. It’s always foreign terrorists ....”

While most news stations report on the wildfires in California or soldiers in Iraq, no two stations report on it exactly the same. Still, many viewers like Morrow say the news on television overall is bias and sometimes in negative ways. Is television news bias? Are certain shows too liberal or too conservative? Is journalistic integrity sometimes being compromised?

“Sure there is bias,” said Charles Tuggle, an associate professor in UNC-CH’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication who oversees the University’s weekly television newscast, “Carolina Week.” “It’s in some places more than others. There’s no way around it.”

Tuggle says he tries to help students to minimize bias and avoid a conflict of interest. For example, he said a student involved in the Greek system would never be allowed to do a story on the Greek system.

While many “Carolina Week” reporters say they strive for objectivity, some news stations have a noticeable ideological preference. Sudhir Kumar, who graduated from UNC-CH last year and worked with Tuggle, said ever since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a “huge conservative shift” in television news. Kumar cited Fox News and MSNBC as news channels that support conservative and republican ideas. He said CNN is becoming more conservative.

Other people like Katie Coleman, a UNC-CH senior, said television news is becoming more liberal. She said the media has a trend of reporting on liberal issues, like protesters of the Iraq War.

Is there something wrong with having a majority of television shows bias one way or another? Some people think there are so many channels to choose from that it gives a viewer plenty of options. Others, like Kumar, think all the shows have become homogeneous.

“It’s a huge problem for America because we live in a democracy where there should be a free exchange of thoughts in every direction,” said Kumar, who claims no ideological preference. “When everything becomes bias, it’s like a dictatorship where you only get one view on everything and you don’t understand the full nature of what’s right and what’s wrong. You get no criticism of that one view either. There’s no criticism of government. You got to have that.”

Americans seem to be divided about bias on television news, in particular intentional bias. Two Gallup Polls that were conducted from July 11, 2003 to July 16, 2003, demonstrated a sample of how more than 1,000 Americans that were interviewed by telephone felt about:

Hosts of cable news shows having strong opinions about politics. Is that a good thing or a bad thing in your opinion?

Good thing ... 50 percent
Bad thing ... 38 percent
Neither ... 6 percent
Don’t know/ refused ... 6 percent

Reporters and news people having background as advisors to political
candidates and office holders. Is that a good thing or a bad thing in your opinion?
Good thing ... 44 percent
Bad thing ... 42 percent
Neither ... 7 percent
Don’t know/ refused ... 7 percent

As Morrow changed the channel to Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC, Matthews says according to a recent poll, President George Bush’s approval rating has declined among independent voters while Americans are saying the economy is getting better for the first time in 16 months.

Matthews introduces his guest, Ralph Reed, as “one of the smartest people in politics.” Reed was a campaign strategist in the Southeast for President Bush for the 2000 election.

“I think all the president is asking and all the American people are asking is that the total story be told,” Reed said when questioned about American soldiers that have died in Iraq. “And the total story is Iraq is on its way to a free and a democratizing country ....”

“I don’t believe it for a bit,” Morrow said.

Perhaps Morrow is skeptical because the total story cannot always be told in a single news show. Morrow also said that television news, like other sources of media, is driven primarily by ratings – the more viewers watch, the higher a show’s rating.

“Because we live in an economy that is capitalistic, every business has a fundamental goal, and that is to be profitable,” said Zephyr Taylor, a UNC-CH economics graduate. “And profitability is based on demand. And demand is based on preferences. That’s what it all comes down to. People have preferences for certain types of things. Is the media bias? The media is partial toward what people want to see in a light that is interesting.”

Brent Tanner, a UNC-CH political science major, said liberal bias is more common than conservative bias in the media, which is increasing shows’ ratings. He said sometimes the truth is stretched by these stations because they distort the truth to back their stance, but he also said having a bias media can give a viewer a more thorough report about an issue and can motivate viewers to take an active role on certain issues.

Some people see fewer benefits than Tanner from watching news on television. After turning off the television with a sign of angst on his face, Morrow explained why he didn’t want to watch any more news that night.

“Instead of making a solid argument, I’m seeing a lot of negative journalism,” he said. “They’ll take one issue and say it’s too liberal or too conservative, and I tend to think the average American doesn’t have any clue what they are talking about ... I think the common thread in all these shows is the personality behind these shows has become more important than what they are saying.”

No Title

It was my first trip overseas. I traveled with my mom during spring vacation in 1996 to Cairo, Egypt. As a college senior, I wrote this story about my adventure in a desert tunnel.

I can neither see nor hear anything down here. I’m alone with a man whose name I do not know, and I can’t understand a word he says. It’s just the two of us and a sarcophagus about a hundred dark feet beneath the surface of the hot desert sand. But it’s not hot down here. I hope he can find his matches...

Those thoughts ran through my mind one sunny afternoon in April 1996. It was that moment during spring vacation my sophomore year in high school that I have found myself recalling to this day. After all, how many times have I experienced a moment like that?

To understand how I arrived at that moment, let’s go back to when I was with my mom and a close family friend, my two travel companions. We rented a car in Cairo, and headed south through the desert to Faiyum, an area of miles and miles of farmland and palm trees that flourish from the Nile to its east. Working the land with their bare hands or standing idle near their mudbrick houses, men, women and children stopped and stared as we drove by on a narrow dirt road. These Egyptians didn’t have cars. They had donkeys.

Riding down the long, winding road to the step pyramid of Maidum gave me a perspective of the desolate Sahara Desert. Many archeologists believe the step pyramid of Maidum was started by King Huni of the 3rd Dynasty and completed during the reign of his successor, King Sneferu of the 4th Dynasty in about 2500 B.C.

The reason we found Maidum – a place less popular than the pyramids of Giza among tourists - is because our close family friend is an Egyptologist who spoke Arabic and read hieroglyphs on our trip and recommended a place such as this one. Next to the step pyramid is a mastaba or an ancient Egyptian cemetery, which looked more like a long, rectangular mound of rubble.

The mastaba had an entrance that resembled a hole for a large animal. Since my mom is claustrophobic, I entered without her. I ducked down as I followed an Egyptian guide, who didn’t speak English, into this narrow hole that is believed to have been the robbers’ passage. We both walked hunched over with his candle as our only source of light. I began to realize how ants feel. After trekking about a hundred feet down a steep passage, I climbed down a 10-foot wooden ladder to another part of the passage, which was just as cramped. The guide waved his hand for me to keep following him. There were a few wobbly planks we crossed to make it over gaps in the passage floor. What lurked in those chasms I could not see. At one point, the passage became so narrow, I had to crawl.

Eventually we came to the tomb chamber. It was the size of an average bedroom. Besides us, there was an enormous granite sarcophagus in the room, nothing else. Thinking how the ancient Egyptians must have transported an object that weighed a few tons this far beneath the desert sand was truly mind-boggling. The sarcophagus’s cover had been removed by archeologists, along with all the other artifacts, and taken to a museum. In a way, I felt like myself and all those who had been here previously were trespassing on sacred territory. But for some reason, I never was nervous throughout the entire experience. Maybe it was because I let my mom do the worrying for both of us. The guide held the lit candle near the tomb and before I knew it, it blew out. We’re back to the moment. Did he find his matches? Well, I made it out and I’m still here.

This story first appeared in the Blue & White magazine in April 2004.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

(More Than) Just a Game

As a child, my Grandma Agnes was taller than her female classmates. She was also more agile and had more strength, especially in her shoulders, from swimming so often. These characteristics made her a match for her natural position on the basketball court as a center, or what she called “jump-center.”

While she scored many baskets against her classmates in gym by simply shooting over their extended hands, my grandma never played much basketball. In America, basketball wasn’t a big deal back then anyway. There were greater concerns, like the Great Depression.

But as a young child, besides swimming, my grandma loved to read. As the local librarian used to say to her, “Agnes, I think you’ve read every book in here.” And if her face wasn’t in a book, it was in water. My grandma said she learned to swim before she could walk.

Those childhood days were soon gone. My grandma was intelligent, but she couldn’t go to college because her family was too poor. She married at a young age and stayed home, taking care of my mom, Judy, and my Uncle Rob while my Grandpa Bill worked. Sports were enjoyed in my grandma’s house, but it was seen as a form of exercise, nothing to get excited about . . .

People change with time no matter how set in their ways. My grandma was no exception. Growing up in Danbury, Conn., basketball was a sport my family took seriously, especially my dad, Jack, my brother, Jaime, and I. As soon as the cool autumn breeze grabbed the bright yellow and red oak leaves from the neighborhood trees, University of Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun and his boys up in Storrs, Conn., became a frequent subject of dinner conversations. “Husky-mania” was in our veins, and no one’s blood was thicker than my Grandma Agnes. Yes, my grandma loved watching the Huskies basketball team play just as much as anyone in the Nutmeg state.

She, however, became a Connecticut fanatic later in life, soon after my Grandpa Bill passed away on Dec. 7, 1991. At the time of his death, my grandma had been married to him for 49 years. This wasn’t easy for her, but she found an escape. Watching basketball games gave her a new joy, something to bring a smile to her face – something to make her forget about her Bill. At this time, I began to play organized basketball. My grandma never seemed to miss a game.

I found out just how serious a fan she had become when I called her during a regular-season Husky game and she did not pick up the phone.

I asked her, “Grandma, why didn’t you pick up the phone when I called you yesterday?”

“I was too nervous watching the game. If the UConn game is on, I don’t answer the phone. If you want me bad enough you’ll call back.”

She didn’t watch the games like most women over the age of 80. In fact, she sometimes didn’t watch parts of the games, leaving the room during a close game. When the games were tight she sometimes couldn’t take it, either could her high blood pressure.

During holidays or weekends, my grandma came to our house and watched the games on our livingroom sofa with me. One game, against Syracuse, I remember vividly. I was sitting on the sofa with my grandma watching the game as she kept blurting out instructions and cheers to the Connecticut players and Calhoun.

“Get the rebound! ... Oh, how did he miss that? ... I love (Ray) Allen. Isn’t he great?!”

The game was close down the stretch with both teams trading baskets on offense. My grandma had the palms of her hands together with her fingertips touching her bowed forehead as she whispered to herself.

“Grandma, what are you doing?”

“I’m praying for them.”

The game was still close. She went back to her position. The Huskies won.

Even without basketball, my grandma and I always had a tight bond. Countless times she came over to our house with yogurt pie and green Jell-O, two of her special recipes. We joked around for an hour or two after dinner. I can still remember her talking about her swollen leg, which she injured trying to get into a van to go see me play a high school basketball game.

“Brett, I think I’m going to grow marijuana in my backyard.”

“You’re going to grow what grandma?”

“Marijuana, that stuff that you smoke. I think it might help me get rid of the pain in my leg.”

“You also might be able to sell some and make some money on the side,” I said.

“I think I might try that,” she said.

We both burst into laughter. Even in pain she had a great sense of humor.

From fourth grade to my senior year in high school my grandma never missed one of my basketball games. After I graduated high school, she said she missed watching me play. Her love for Husky basketball continued. In 1999, Connecticut beat Duke in the national championship game. Before I ran around the house in excitement, I called my grandma. I asked her what she thought of the game.

“I’m speechless,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

There was nothing she had to say. I had a good idea how she felt. It was the team’s first national title. My grandma was 85 years old. Thankfully, that title game came when it did.

On January 30, 2001, there was no more Husky-mania in my grandma’s house. That weekday morning my mom called me at my school apartment and gathered enough courage to spill the news.

My grandma had passed away.

A few seconds after I hung up the phone I couldn’t see. Tears flooded my eyes like a dam. I still watch basketball on television, but the game hasn’t been the same.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Listening to Your Inner Voice

Go ahead. Ask Woody Durham a question. He’d love to give you an answer and he has plenty to say – at least if it involves his life, which is an amalgam of college sports, broadcasting and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He’s one of those rare people that started his chosen profession at an early age. Even when he began his broadcasting career at age 16 at WZKY radio in Albemarle, N.C., Durham was aware of his God-given talent as much as any of his most faithful listeners during his long, illustrious career.

“One of the things that I was given whenever they were handing out talents was I was given a good voice,” he said.

That voice helped him land the job as play-by-play announcer for the UNC football and men’s basketball teams in 1971. Now in his 33rd year, Durham, 62, is often referred to as the “Voice of the Tar Heels,” and has become as well-known throughout the state as the star players he talks about.

One time a lady noticed Durham walking down the street, and decided to confess her loyalty by telling him she always turned down the sound on her television and turned up his radio commentary during the games. Durham recalls her asking, “How many times have people come up to you and said that?” He replied, “I quit counting. But I tell you what, it’s a real compliment every time they do.”

While he notices his gifts, he doesn’t come across as conceited. Maybe it’s because he acknowledges the people and influences he’s had while growing up in the small textile community 40 miles east of Charlotte, called Albemarle. Although he lived in a small town, high school football was serious business. People would get off work early on game days, where the stadium was filled with as many as 8,000 fans an hour before Durham and his teammates took the field. Although he didn’t know it at the time, his football coach, Toby Webb, taught him lessons that helped him later in his career.

Pondering a dream of playing college football, Durham realized, “I wasn’t good enough, nor was I big enough to play at the next level ... so I quickly saw (radio broadcasting) was a way to stay involved in sports.”

You may not need to ask, but Durham will tell you how he was the sports director of WUNC-TV for three years before graduating from UNC-CH in 1963. He’ll explain that he never had any intention of working in Chapel Hill, but when he was offered the job in the spring of 1971 it developed into his life and what defined his career.

His career success did not come without sacrifice, often leaving his wife, Jean, to look after his two sons, Wes and Taylor.

“I really have a terrific wife, who realized what I wanted to do and what was necessary for me to do it,” Durham said. “I got home, everybody was asleep. I got up the next morning, maybe I’d see the boys a few minutes and I was gone. Maybe twice a week I’d get home for dinner at night between the shows. It was difficult and she did a good job of doing that.”

Although Durham has said he hasn’t always communicated well at home with his family (because he does it so much on the job), he is grateful that Wes and Taylor understood what he was trying to accomplish. In fact, both of Durham’s sons work in the sports broadcasting field.

On the job, Durham describes his style of broadcasting as “partial-objective” because everyone knows he is a Tar Heel fan. It’s his ability to prepare for work and communicate with his audience – two things he advises for anyone in any profession – that has earned him a faithful following during football and basketball seasons. Dedication and desire for his job were attributes Durham had when he would listen to radio announcers for pleasure as a child.

“I was one of those guys that sat around with a notebook and wrote down all these things these guys were doing and how they did it,” Durham said.

While taking copious notes and storing them in his memory bank, Durham blended particular styles he admired with his own to deliver a broadcast that he was comfortable with. Listeners, in turn, acknowledged his sincerity and authenticity on the job.

“Woody Durham’s pretty much my journalistic hero,” said Will Robinson, a UNC-CH junior majoring in journalism and Spanish.

On Feb. 2, 1995, UNC beat Duke 102-100 in a double-overtime basketball game. Robinson was watching the game on television when his mom made him turn off the TV and go to his bedroom before the game ended at about 1 a.m. Anxious to hear the last two overtimes, Robinson listened to Durham announce the play-by-play on the radio in his bedroom.

“That’s basically something I’ll always remember,” Robinson said. “Ever since then I’ve pretty much muted the TV and listened to Woody just because he’s so good at what he does. He’s got a great voice. He’s really passionate about what he does. You know he loves the Tar Heels, but he’s also very fair with his coverage. He’s extremely knowledgeable compared to a lot of the other radio commentators. I think that he’s very factual, very speedy with getting information across.”

Durham’s acute knowledge of what it’s like to be a fan has created a special rapport between him and his listeners. For instance, toward the end of a basketball game that UNC was losing, Durham said, “It’s about time to go where you go and do what you do.” Listeners at home could relate to this phrase because they each have a unique thing they do or place they go when the score is close. Durham knows his wife cleans her house when UNC is in a tight game.

Whether UNC has won or lost, though, Durham has learned how to keep the game and his life in perspective. That perspective has come from lessons he learned from 26 years being near Dean Smith, the first person he would consult on a big decision today: “Coach Smith’s philosophy is that a program, a consistent program, is much more important in the long run than one game.”

Thursday, October 9, 2003

The Future of College Football Scholarships and Amateurism

I wrote this for my JOMC 118 class (Ethical Issues and Sports Communication) during the fall of my senior year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Sweeney was a fair and interesting teacher. He was non-biased to the point where you wondered what his opinion really was, and he brought well-known alumni to class, such as Stuart Scott.

College and athletics have been a part of American culture for about 150 years. During this time, sports have grown into big businesses at some schools, especially with the top Division IA schools. Controversy over academic performance, recruitment, scholarships, revenue and media attention has sparked interest in the last half century.

Some people say sports has no place in college, and that academics should be the major concern. The idea of eliminating athletics from colleges or separating the two may seem inconceivable today not just because of the rules and laws made by the NCAA, but because sports has been a part of our colleges for so long. “Anyone who wants to claim that sports has no place in a college or university is quickly going to run headlong into both the insatiable appetite for sports that is evident in our daily lives – and the reality of history,” said authors James Shulman and William Bowen. (The Game of Life, 5).

Popularity in college football’s popularity began to rise in the late 1800s with its physical style of play. Before the turn of the century, about 40,000 fans watched the college championship game played in New York City on Thanksgiving. (The Game of Life, 6).

The seriousness of college sports was obvious by the time Howard Savage did a study in 1929 that was authorized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He found that college sports were no longer student-run clubs, but rather institutionally managed. Today, athletic departments are in charge of their own budgets, staff and in many ways policing themselves. The questions Savage raised are still meaningful today, such as: Should financial aid be given to players based on athletic performance?; How should athletic facilities be paid for?; and the role of boosters for an athletic program. (The Game of Life, 8).

The media and fan attention has not diminished over the years. Today, college football is highly popular while facing much scrutiny. Alabama is an example of a college football dynasty that since winning the national title in 1992, has faced two NCAA sanctions, including a three-year bowl ban and loss of 34 scholarships. Several players and coaches have both been found guilty of NCAA violations. Soon-to-be coach Mike Price was fired on May 3 after he allegedly brought a stripper back to his hotel and ran up an expensive room service order at his hotel room the night of a golf tournament in Pensacola, Fla. To show that college football is more than an amateur game, USA Today writer Kelly Whiteside wrote, “when Price addressed the ‘Bama Nation’ after he was fired, 14 television cameras formed a tight ring around the podium. The state’s television and radio stations aired the day’s events live, describing the scene as if it were a State of the Union address: ‘Mike Price is walking down the stairs, coming into the room, flanked by his wife and two sons. He approaches the podium...’” (Kelly Whiteside, USA Today, May 5, 2003).

Before college
Parents and children are learning, if they don’t already know, that specializing and concentrating on one sport at an early age can possibly become an athletic scholarship when a child reaches college. With travel and AAU teams, the way games are played are more like minor leagues than recreational sports.

In a study involving several Division 1A public universities, the number of multiple-sport male athletes has dropped from 10 percent in 1951 to five percent in 1976 to one percent by 1989. This trend was also true for private universities during the same time period. (The Game of Life, 26-27).

“It is that children at (age) 10 also reach a sporting crossroads ... whereas eight- and nine-year-olds are conformists and cultivators of wide-ranging interests, at 10 kids might delve deeply into their passions but have fewer of them,” says sports writer Alexander Wolff, Sports Illustrated, Oct. 6, 2003. “It’s the age at which a child is likely to either set sports aside or choose to throw himself into them – or into one sport,” One of these examples that Wolff points out is Cooper Moseley, a star pitcher from Alabama who played in 127 games in 2001 at age 10.

Today, many kids like Moseley have their minds set on playing professional sports. For these kids, it’s not just a game.

Even though many football players were paid for their athletic ability, athletic scholarships were against the rules until 1956, when they became legal in college sports. (The Game of Life, 12-13). By the early 1990s, the NCAA reduced the number of football scholarships from 95 to 85. For football players at UNC, scholarships include tuition fees, room and board and books, said Lisa Deibler, director of compliance in her sixth year at UNC. For these athletes, the meal plan includes two meals on the training table (breakfast for any players and dinner just for scholarship players), she said. Then the scholarship players are all given the same amount of money for the remaining amount of meals each month, which is usually about $300 per person, Deibler said.

Scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis, but if an athlete shows up to practice and meets academic requirements his scholarship will most likely be renewed each of his four years or five years. In-state football players count as a full-scholarship, but their tuition is less, Deibler said. There are no partial scholarships unless a player joins the team during the middle of the year which is rare, she said.

Recruiting is a part of college football. Recruitment and the knowledge of the prep and even junior high talent pool are so widespread these days that the idea of having a walk-on or relatively unknown player make a significant contribution is virtually unheard of.

Still, there is no doubt that some players have received money or “gifts” while being recruited at some colleges each year.

“When we hear those things, we look into them,” Deibler said about rumors of a football player with an expensive car, etc. “But there’s never been a time in my memory that we’ve unearthed a problem with that. There’s usually a reasonable explanation for things like that. Or things just get blown out of proportion and you’re not hearing the truth.”

Rick Steinbacher, UNC assistant athletic director for football operations, is in charge of recruiting football players. “Myself and any coach that handles recruiting, anybody that does anything with recruiting on our staff has to pass an NCAA test that certifies you have working knowledge of NCAA rules relevant to recruiting,” said Steinbacher, who is allowed six visits per recruit whether on or off-campus and can only make one phone call a week per prospect. “Our practice at Carolina for years, our reputation, is we don’t break rules for someone. Has a recruit asked us for things we wouldn’t do? Yes, that’s happened, but not very much. Right away they get a quick ‘no.’”

Whether an athlete is involved in illegal recruitment or not, recruiting influences players’ decisions. Several studies done by the Cooperative Institutional Research program (CIRP) survey showed that by 1989, a majority of athletes in high profile sports (basketball, football, hockey) said being recruited had played a role in which college they attended. (The Game of Life, 38).

Steinbacher says at UNC, coaches ask three questions about a recruit: Do they have athletic ability or talent to help win an ACC title?; Are they academically qualified?; Do they have the right character for a player on our team?

While some people argue that athletes have a better chance of being accepted by a college than non-athletes, this advantage may also pertain to the children of alumni. These two groups of students put pressure on admissions. But at UNC, admissions likely look at more students applying whose relatives were alumni than they look at the number of athletes applying. So in retrospect admissions might have to struggle with the fact of letting a student in because his parents went to a certain college more often than deciding whether to allow an athlete to be accepted. At a small school like Williams, it may be the opposite.

Still, being an athlete often works in a student’s favor when trying to gain admittance to his college of choice. A study involving just male athletes at non-scholarship schools showed they have a 48 percent advantage of being accepted over non-athletes, while minority male students only have a 18 percent advantage in being accepted. (The Game of Life, 40-41).

The admission of both male and female athletes has continued to increase from 1976 to 1989 to 1999. (The Game of Life, 260). At UNC, there are minimum requirements for football players no matter how well they performed in high school, Deibler said.

“Generally at the bare minimum, for admissions to even look at a kid, they’re going to need at least a 2.5 in the core courses and a 900 (SAT score),” she said about football prospects at UNC. “And this is speaking in general terms. There’s always an exception. Anywhere below that, it is going to be near impossible for the coaches to get them in.”

Whether accepted or not, all high school athletes have to meet certain NCAA criteria before they can be considered for college admissions. NCAA requirement for participation in college athletics has become stricter during the last 30 years. To be eligible to play in college, high school students had to graduate with a 2.0 GPA, which was required from 1973 to 1986. Then came a minimum SAT requirement in 1986. Athletes had to score at least 700 on the SAT with a 2.0 GPA in 11 core courses, which lasted until 1992. (The Game of Life, 13).

The requirements for athletes who enrolled as freshmen in the fall of 2003 or the fall of 2004 are complex because of recent changes the NCAA has made, Deibler said. These athletes can meet the old standard, which was 13 core courses and a GPA scale that correlated to a student’s SAT score, or the new standard, which requires 14 core courses with a complete sliding scale that correlates GPA and SAT score, she said. For athletes who enroll as freshman in 2005, they will have to meet just the new standard. Before this recent change, athletes had to have at least an 820 SAT and a 2.5 GPA. The new scale allows students who scored below an 820 to get into college. According to Deibler, the new scale allows an athlete to score a 400 on the SAT if they have a 3.5 GPA or higher. This new scale also requires students to get at least a 1010 on the SAT if they have a 2.0 GPA, the minimum GPA allowed to participate in college. The SAT score requirement gets higher as the student GPA falls, and increases the lower the GPA with 400 and 1010 as the two extremes. Deibler said the new standard may create some problems, but that it must be in place for a while before judging it.

“Personally, I have some concerns about how a student who earns a 3.55 in high school would only score a 400 on the SAT,” Deibler said. “And I think in some cases it puts pressure on high school teachers and high school administrators to get the kids with the lower test scores to the higher GPA so that they can qualify.”

She said that a lot of schools may not accept a person with a 400 SAT score even if they are eligible because there are stricter requirements once in college for athletes who scored low academically in high school. She said this includes a certain GPA and a greater amount of course hours required per semester.

Male students in high profile sports (basketball, football, hockey) scored lower on their SAT scores than male students at large, according to a study done in 1989. In fact, at Division IA public universities, the SAT scores averaged out to be: 1154 for male students at large and 917 for high profile male athletes. (The Game of Life, 44).

A study by the same group of researchers showed that while the Ivy League colleges narrowed the gap in SAT scores between high profile athletes and students at large from 1976 to 1989, other colleges did not. According to authors Shulman and Bowen in The Game of Life, “liberal art’s colleges...became appreciably more selective over the course of the 1980s, but the mean score of their football, hockey, and basketball players actually declined by three points over this period.” These authors said the test scores at the Ivy League had narrowed from a 149 difference in 1976 to a 125 difference in 1989, while the liberal art’s colleges increased the gap over that time period from 99 to 135. (The Game of Life, 46-47).

These authors summed up their finds by writing, “The athletes at these selective schools are clearly smart people. Nevertheless, there are differences in pre-collegiate academic preparation between athletes and their classmates, and these differences have generally become much more pronounced over time. These patterns of difference in academic preparation are clear at every level of play and in sports of many kinds, not simply in the High Profile programs at the Division IA schools.” (The Game of Life, 47, 50).

College life and athletics

An important question is whether this difference in performance on the SAT has significance on the athletes’ performance in college compared to non-athletes? One answer to this question is the examination of graduation rates. According to a study, which Schulman and Bowen examined, involving males at selective schools playing high profile sports from 1951 to 1989, the graduation rate is similar to their classmates that aren’t on a varsity sport. (The Game of Life, 61).

Still, many big-time college football programs have less than average graduation rates. Ohio State’s graduation rate is 36 percent among scholarship football players entering school from 1992 through 1995, which is the most recent available data. This was 20 points beneath the rate of all athletes and the overall student body. (Malcom Moran, USA Today, Aug. 4, 2003).

Maurice Clarett, star running back at Ohio State, has shown interest in turning pro, but because of an NFL rule preventing players from turning pro without three college seasons, Clarett is taking legal action. Although Clarett has jeopardized his college career with his own dishonesty over academic and off-the-field violations, Sports Illustrated writer Phil Taylor says, “The (NFL) might be concerned with the health of prospective young players, but it is undoubtedly more concerned with the health of the system that has made college football a free minor league for the pros. Maintaining the status quo isn’t a good enough reason to deny young players like Clarett.” (Phil Taylor, Sports Illustrated, Oct. 6, 2003).

Another aspect to look into is grade performance. While grades between athletes and non-athletes in the study examined by Schulman and Bowen were virtually the same in 1951, they were lower for high profile athletes than non-athletes as time progressed. In 1989, high profile athletes ranked, on average, in the 25th percentile while non-athletes were at the 49th percentile. (The Game of Life, 62). A similar trend in low grades on average by high profile athletes has stretched down to Division III over time. The biggest discrepancy in grades involving high profile athletes and non-athletes has been at private universities in recent years, where colleges like Duke and Vanderbilt have significantly lower grades among high profile athletes compared to the rest of the student body. (The Game of Life, 64).

Shulman and Bowen wrote, “By 1989, the phenomenon of athletes underperforming their predicted class rank had spread to all levels of competition in the Lower Profile sports, and it had deepened in the High Profile sports at all levels of play except for the Division IA public universities.” (The Game of Life, 67).

One reason athletes may not perform as well as the rest of the student body is because they face demanding schedules and aren’t involved in the every day interaction with professors and students. College athletes, especially big-time football players, are often separated from the student body because of their busy schedules. At UNC, the football team has one academic counselor and two learning specialists, Deibler said. The director of the academic support program also helps out with academic counseling, she said.

Although it is considered an amateur activity, college football, or college athletics for that matter, appear as a minor league training ground to some observers. Many notice the daily regimens resemble professional practices or workouts. As Schulman and Bowen wrote on page 82 of The Game of Life:

“More generally, it appears that a distinct ‘athletic culture’ is appearing in essentially all sports and at all levels of play, including the Division III coed liberal arts colleges. This culture tends to separate athletes from other students and exacerbates the problems of academic performance. As one example, athletes are more and more concentrated in certain fields of study. Athletes at all of these schools, in the Lower Profile sports as well as in the High Profile sports, seem to be heading in their own directions—and in directions that may or may not be consistent with the missions of the colleges and universities that admitted them.”

If the practice and playing schedule don’t flirt with the correlation to professional sports, the high costs for advertising and commercialization of college football make many people speculate a college’s mission.

College football has in many ways become an arms race, but particularly in one way: school spending. Coaches are paid more and more as well as excessive spending on facilities. Washington University paid Coach Rick Neuheisel (who had numerous NCAA violations during his tenure at Colorado and Washington) $1.5 million annually, which increased the salary costs other college football coaches would demand.

But Neuheisel’s contract is child’s play compared to what the University of Oregon has done. It spent $3.2 million for its football locker room. A room that Bill Moos, the school’s athletic director, boasts, “The best in college football? It is the best anywhere, including the NFL.” (Blaine Newnham, The Seattle Times, Sept. 9, 2003). How can college football be considered an amateur sport when you have an athletic director bragging about how his school’s locker room is better than any in the pros? And some people might question how a bunch of “amateur” college football players need three 60-inch plasma TVs, two of which are hooked up for Xbox games at a cost of $15,000 each in the lounge area? Oregon has 120 lockers, which means that each locker costs $26,667, including one locker reserved for Nike chairman Phil Knight even though other boosters of the program provided the funding. Still, Knight paid for half of the nearly $100 million expansion of the football stadium. Proving that college sports is a moneymaking business, Moos says, “We have to produce revenue and you do that by retaining coaches and attracting talent. We don’t have 365 days of sunshine a year, but we do have great facilities.” Is spending a problem in college athletics? Blaine Newnham of the Seattle Times certainly thinks so, writing, “The state’s educational system is under economic siege. Dorm rooms shared by two average 145 square feet. Class sizes have grown. Professor salaries are among the lowest in the country ... The NCAA vigorously watches recruiting excess. It doesn’t control the building of facilities. The Ducks have found a loophole, and jumped through it.” (Blaine Newnham, The Seattle Times, Sept. 9, 2003).

In defense of Moos, the athletic departments are under tremendous pressure by boosters, alumni and fans to have winning teams, especially winning football teams. The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act is another reason athletic director’s are spending more money. This act requires colleges to publicly report the amount they spend on athletic coaches, facilities, etc. Athletic directors are now looking at these reports from other schools and comparing them to their school, which puts pressure on them to meet their competitor’s price. (The Game of Life, 12).

There are some positive things that come when big-time Division I football teams bring in revenue. Some may argue that no matter how strong a college’s academic reputation or pretty a campus, athletics creates interest and brings in the revenue. In simple terms, fans are more concerned with touchdowns than good test scores. As Shulman and Bowen wrote, “The uniformed hero in his or her mud-splashed splendor is a much more arresting image than a photo of a history major with writer’s block or an economist hunched over a problem set.” (The Game of Life, 10). At UNC, the football team for the fiscal year of June 30, 2002: total revenues were $15 million; total expenses $8.5 million; and a net of roughly $6.5 million, according to Martina Ballen, UNC senior associate officer for business and finance.

Unfortunately for many colleges, their football programs are running deficits.

The football programs that bring in a lot revenue are often justified for the ticket sales, booster donations and endorsement contracts because they bring in money that helps support the low profile sports. Winning programs often please alumni that have a certain image or pride about their colleges’ football program, and can attract future student interest and marketing appeal. (The Game of Life, 4).

Power conferences can also generate more revenue than lesser conferences because they have a conference championship and usually are invited to play in the more prestigious and higher-paying bowl games. The money is split up between conference teams. That is why the ACC conference is expanding. Most would agree the addition of Virginia Tech and Miami are not going to improve the academic excellence of the ACC, but these two schools will resemble a Florida State-caliber football team. Conferences also gain revenue through college football television contracts. The NCAA used to own the rights to college football on TV until a 1984 Supreme Court decision let individual schools and conferences work out their own contracts. (The Game of Life, 16).

The increase in the number of football television stations and the increase in interest in the game with lucrative commercialization has caused the TV contracts to keep rising. Winning and losing sometimes involves more than millions, but instead billions of dollars for networks.

While television contracts and facilities may be secure for a significant period of time, coaches sometimes have a short career to meet a school’s criteria.

“Some coaches just like to be on that edge of right and wrong,” Deibler said. “Our coaches here are more conservative, and I think in most schools they are because they want to do the right thing.”

Possibly feeling pressure from his gaudy contract, Neuheisel is an example of a coach that doesn’t have a conservative history. He amassed more than 50 recruiting violations while coaching at Colorado. Less than a month after he was hired at Washington because he had won a lot of games at Colorado, Neuheisel was not allowed to accept any transfers because he made illegal calls to Colorado players. He was most recently fired at Washington because he bet more than $6,000 on NCAA basketball pools and did not tell the NCAA of this violation. He also lied to the Washington athletic director and the media about a secret interview he had in February for the 49ers’ coaching job. (Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated, June 23, 2003).

Many people say Division II and Division III college football is closer to being a purely amateur sport than Division I football because there is less money, commercialization and boosters involved, not to mention the fact it is rare that any of these players ever appear on an NFL roster.

Of course there is always the exception, like tight end Kyle Acker, who plays at Salisbury University. Although he is currently playing for a small Division III school in Maryland and has caught the eye of more than a dozen pro scouts and has received calls from agents, at 6'3", weighing 255 pounds and running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, Acker is an anomaly. Of course neither he nor any of his players have athletic scholarships. They travel only by bus to away games. (Gary Lambrecht, Baltimore Sun, Sept. 27, 2003).

There are certainly many issues in college football that have, are and will be debated for generations. Whether something is right or wrong, human nature is always going to be part of the scenario, which could lead to future solutions or problems. As George Orwell wrote in 1947, “On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and the exercise; but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.”


Bowen, William, and James Shulman. The Game of Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Newspapers and Magazines
Brooks, B.G. “CU can’t read between dotted lines.” Rocky Mountain News: Sept. 27, 2003.
Lambrecht, Gary. “Unexpected catch turns up on Shore.” Baltimore Sun: Sept. 27, 2003.
Layden, Tim. “Charms and the Man; He’s a talented coach, but can Rick Neuheisel’s charisma overcome his flaws?” Sports Illustrated: June 23, 2003.
Moran, Malcolm. “Ohio State, Clarett tackle off-field issues.” USA Today: Aug. 4, 2003.
Newnham, Blaine. “At $26,667 per locker, Ducks land in luxury.” Seattle Times: Sept. 9, 2003.
Taylor, Phil. “Phil Taylor’s Sidelines.” Sports Illustrated: Oct. 6, 2003.
Whiteside, Kelly. “NCAA official: ‘We do have a gambling problem on our campuses.’” USA Today: June 6, 2003.
Whiteside, Kelly. “Through scandal after scandal, Alabama’s faith remains firm.” USA Today: May 5, 2003.


Martina Ballen, UNC senior associate athletic director for business and finance
Lisa Deibler, UNC director of compliance
Rick Steinbacher, UNC assistant athletic director for football operations