HOBBES’ NCAA – THE NEW LEVIATHAN

 

It seems as if the NCAA is not busy enough with player unions, pay-for-play petitions and entreaties, a Division I Football Playoff system, and food money for its student-athletes.  After all, the NCAA was established as an organization whose members “collectively invest in improving the experiences of student-athletes – on the field, in the classroom, and in life.”  This declaration comes directly from the NCAA’s website (ncaa.org).

Now, some of its “leaders”, reports Brad Wolverton in the 15 April 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, think the NCAA should revisit its stance on academics at member institutions.

This comes on the heels of the nasty investigation being conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concerning some courses in one of its departments which were “ghost” courses, at best.  Students never attended, it has been reported, and yet grades were posted.  It did involve some student-athletes; but it also involved students from the general student population.

I can only imagine some of the in-depth “introspective” utterances of those NCAA “leaders” on this issue – “Well, we have to do something!” – or “We have an obligation to the student-athletes!” – and the litany of their pious locutions must have continued at their cocktail party into the wee hours of the morning, their concern so incensed.

It reminds me of my great aunt Gertrude (yes, I really did have one of those with that name).  Whenever Aunt Gertrude saw or heard of something she thought outrageous or happened to offend her somehow, her first reaction was, “There oughta be a law!”  Her sainted husband, my Uncle Abe (again, yes I really did have one of those with that name), would patiently reply, “Yes, Gertrude, but there isn’t.”

If my Aunt Gertrude were running the NCAA, believe me, it would be a far different organization!  Its enforcement division and philosophy would be its centerpiece.

Aunt Gertrude aside, it seems that the NCAA is presently comprised of many who would praise and idolize her, because in the absence of any rationale for action, “there oughta be a law!”  And today the NCAA is “laws” if it is nothing else!

On closer examination, I began to reflect on my undergraduate philosophy courses and the philosopher who kept popping into my consciousness was Thomas Hobbes, the sixteenth century English political philosopher whose views on the nature of humanity were not too complimentary of the “goodness” of homo erectus.  He envisioned an ideal state which was described in Leviathan one of his treatises on governing humanity.

A Leviathan (he took the name and image from The Bible and it refers to a sea monster) is the creation of a governing system with an “artificial soul”.

Wolverton’s piece really shocked me and, while I have for some time now only conjectured it, the NCAA’s movement in this direction of controlling a member institution’s academic policies, procedures, and practices has confirmed that the NCAA is becoming a Leviathan for collegiate athletics.

While it may be conceded that the NCAA should have an interest in the academic welfare of its student-athletes, to presume that it – and it alone – should be the arbiter and enforcer of academic integrity at any of its member institutions is presumptuous at the very least.  The NCAA prescribes very well delineated directives for its student-athletes for “initial eligibility” – read “entrance requirements” – and for “continuing eligibility”, the metrics for GPAs at the various years of study, the number of hours to be passed in the same time frame, as well as specific percentages of degree completion in the student-athlete’s declared major.  This is reasonable.

However, when the NCAA plans conferences for “more clearly identifying who should be held accountable for academic misconduct after it has occurred and how the NCAA determines whether it will investigate,” (Wolverton) well, in my view that does not allow them to cast a wide net on any academic issue at a member institution.  The UNC Chapel Hill scandal has prompted this attitude with all the largesse we have come to expect from the NCAA.

Whether it will actually happen is yet to be seen, but the NCAA will have to deal with such formidable institutions, groups, and agencies as the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the individual faculty senates at its member institutions, individual state education departments, as well as the six regional accrediting agencies across our Nation.

In the simplest of phrases, the NCAA has neither the authority nor the autonomy to “investigate” UNC Chapel Hill or any other member institution when it comes to that institution’s academic integrity, policies, practices, or procedures.  Wolverton quotes Dr. John Bruno, psychology professor at Ohio State and its Faculty Athletics Representative who is also a member of the NCAA’s Division I Academic Cabinet: “The NCAA needs to be very careful about usurping some of [the institution’s]…jurisdiction or even redefining it so they’re dealing with fraud in a way that’s different than the institutions are.”

Still, if those unnamed NCAA “leaders” so bent upon pursuing this path continue, I reflect on Hobbes’ observation of such an arrogant approach: “For such is the nature of man, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other mens (sic) at a distance.”  I added the italics for emphasis.

It is actions of this ilk that has gotten the NCAA to the position it occupies today – suspected, untrusted, inconsistent, and constantly at odds with the general National temperament as regards their reliability or their integrity.

Clearly, there is a train on the tracks headed squarely for the NCAA, but they still believe its headlight is the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Oh well, Hobbes put it better than I could ever have imagined when he quipped, “Hell is truth seen too late.”

It may be an epitaph.

Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy.  He has worked in higher education for more than four decades.  Dr. Ogden has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and an athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.

 

 

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