Concerning the POINT AFTER (Sept. 5) on ending freshman eligibility, the real problems are the things that the Reverend Timothy S. Healy of Georgetown accepts as given: the commercialization and professionalization of college sports—what he calls the colleges' "unwanted role as farm teams" for the pros—and the lack of fit between the academic requirements of an institution and the qualifications of the athletes it recruits.
At the many NCAA Division I schools where gate and television receipts are not the primary source of revenue, there is much skepticism about these "save the freshmen" solutions. If those schools that urge a return to freshman ineligibility were more interested in selecting athletes who are closer to the academic mean of the student body, the added burden of varsity play in the first year would be entirely manageable. Freshman basketball and football players at a school like William and Mary are able to adjust socially and academically, as well as athletically, because they are fully integrated into campus life. They are not on campus for athletics alone. Moreover, one wonders whether the pressures encountered by student-athletes at most big-time athletic schools aren't too much for sophomores and juniors, as well as for freshmen (many don't even become seniors).
Focusing on the academic side of the equation—i.e., seeking a better fit between student-athlete and institution—may mean, in sports like football, that large state universities, which are often mandated to have essentially open admissions standards, will dominate the more selective private and public institutions. But isn't this what happens anyway? SI's preseason Top 20 (Sept. 5) includes only three private institutions and probably no more than a total of five schools with academically selective standards for athletes.
To Division I institutions with selective academic standards for athletes, freshman teams would mean significantly higher costs—for additional coaches, scholarships, travel and scheduling—that only the "profitable" schools could easily absorb. The net effect would be to widen the resource gap between institutions and create even greater media and recruiting pressure on an even smaller number of schools.
October 2, 1988
If freshman participation in varsity sports is a concern at particular schools or in particular conferences, they can rule freshmen ineligible on their own, as members of the Ivy League have done. As for intense media attention, it is concentrated on only a small cluster of institutions—probably not more than 25 or 30—that accept the farm-team role. They are a special category even within Division I, to say nothing of the NCAA as a whole. So long as we maintain, under NCAA aegis, a commitment to academics and amateurism, solutions concerning student-athlete eligibility should be the product of needs more generally felt and more relevant to our institutional missions.
PAUL R. VERKUIL
William and Mary
As a longtime admirer of Father Healy, I was elated to read his commentary. I hope that with the NCAA membership expressing more interest in the academic pursuits of our student-athletes, college presidents will put aside economic priorities and, in the best interests of the student-athlete, vote to do away with freshman eligibility.
FRANCIS X. MCLAUGHLIN
Director of Athletics
Your Sept. 5 issue contained two fine articles: Frank Deford's The Man Called B.D., on Brian Dowling and Ivy League football in the late 1960s, and the Reverend Timothy S. Healy's POINT AFTER on the flaws of freshman eligibility. Deford's piece underscores what much of today's collegiate athletics sadly lacks—the spirit of amateurism and participation for the love and, yes, the glory of sport. Father Healy offers a thought-provoking argument for limiting freshman athletes to nonvarsity sports participation. When I was at Georgetown (class of '62), freshmen were ineligible to play varsity basketball, and the players seemed to mature more effectively, both personally and athletically, without the pressures and distractions of varsity sports. As Father Healy suggests, these young athletes were a significant catalyst in providing unity to our class.
STUART J. BRAHS
Father Healy's essay is an example of the hypocrisy that exists in major college sports. Three times in the article he states that it is a bad idea for freshmen to play varsity basketball. With direction like this from his university president, is it possible that Georgetown coach John Thompson will redshirt super freshman basketball player Alonzo Mourning so he can grow into a spokesman for his class? I doubt it.
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