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Josh Birch

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Athletic Programs Must Be More Accountable

Posted: 09/11/2012 6:14 pm

The words "Penn State football" used to be a symbol of integrity, character, passion and success. But the events that have transpired over the past year have tarnished the reputation of the program. Yet many people around the country have focused solely on the sexual abuse that took place in the scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. While sexually abusing children is a terrible and despicable act, there are other factors in this story that should teach a lesson to universities around the country.

It is really easy to sit back and judge someone or something after the fact. Many watched the events unfold at Penn State saying "that will never happen at my school." But I see a very different story.

Yes, perhaps most schools will never have a sexual abuse scandal like the one at Penn State, but the major problem that allowed the scandal to arise in the first place affects almost every major university in the country. The story begins and ends with the fact that football has become so big that it is seen as above the law.

It seems as if football programs around the country are essentially safe no matter what they do. A program is judged solely on the wins it produces. The fact that the student athletes are struggling academically and having run-ins with the law doesn't seem to matter to many.

A perfect example of this can be seen at the University of Maryland, which cut seven of its athletic teams in July. These teams included men's cross country, indoor track, tennis and swimming and diving, along with women's swimming and diving, water polo and acrobatics and tumbling.

When many look at this list, they may just think it's not a big deal because these are non-revenue sports. However, there is much more to tell than what meets the eye.

The University of Maryland's Graduation Success Rate (GSR) among student athletes was 82 percent last year, the universities highest mark ever. Women's swimming and women's water polo, which were both cut, had a GSR of 100 percent. In fact, the majority of teams cut by Maryland in July had the highest graduation rates among student athletes at the university.

Football posted a pathetic 59 percent GSR.

Despite bringing in near record lows in revenues last year and posting dismal graduation rates, the football program at Maryland knew it had nothing to fear. Football, along with basketball, are kings at the university, which means they know they are probably safe no matter how many wins are posted or how many players fail to graduate each year.

The accountability of the students in the "power" programs at Maryland is strikingly similar to the problems that Penn State football experienced with the Sandusky scandal. The game of football has become more important than the law, the school and the player's academic performance.

The teams that were cut from Maryland were cut for one reason: money. Because they weren't the revenue sports some of the brightest and most responsible student athletes were left without a sport, while some football and basketball players continued to struggle in the classroom and with the law.

I am not trying to compare Maryland and Penn State in terms of the sexual abuse that was the key component in the Sandusky scandal. But I am saying that large institutions haven't learned their lesson that revenue sports have become bigger than the universities themselves.

The key question is can Maryland, and other universities around the country, step up and stop this trend before a scandal like the one at Penn State happens here?

 
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