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An illusion and a smokescreen

Friends ---

California has the greatest university system in America.

But if we're being honest with ourselves, the truth is: It's failing our student athletes.

It's time for the University of California (UC) to provide its athletes with an education worthy of the UC name.

I argued the case before UC's leaders. The Sacramento Bee, in an editorial this week, sums it up profoundly:

Books before bowl games

It is hardly news that college sports are big business, or that being a big-time sports school carries a price. ...

But faced with a choice between sports rankings and academic reputations, UC President Janet Napolitano initiated a proposal so modest that it verged on “illusory,” in the words of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Oh, it sounded groundbreaking to make coaches’ bonuses contingent on teams’ academic performance. But, as Newsom pointed out, the proposed benchmark was so low that it was almost impossible to miss it. ...

“We’re doing almost nothing here, under the illusion we’re doing something,” said the lieutenant governor, who by law is also a regent. ...

And how does UC motivate its coaches? Newsom pointed to the contract of UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford. Alford, who at last count was the highest paid state employee in California, is guaranteed just $10,000 for seeing to it that his athletes get a meaningful diploma. His bonuses for making it to the NCAA tournament? Some $270,000.

Newsom, who attended college on a partial baseball scholarship, is right when he notes that those numbers say it all.

The regents are right, too, in tabling this issue for further discussion. We like Newsom’s ideas about broadening the benchmarks for compensation and guaranteeing sports scholarships for four years regardless of athletic performance, a move that the five wealthiest NCAA conferences, which include UCLA and Cal, are already exploring.

But above all, the UC needs an intervention. Collegiate sports may be addicted to TV money, but the taxpayers of California don’t have to enable it.

Students and taxpayers deserve better. Let's spread the word. Share the Bee's editorial on Facebook and Twitter.

I'm not letting up on this fight.


Posted on January 30, 2015.

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