Integrity in College Sports

From Stuart Rojstaczer’s Blog 40 Questions

SUNDAY, JUNE 04, 2006

On Integrity in College Sports, In Particular Coach K and College Basketball

As a rule, when people start bandying words about like “integrity” and “honesty” I get very worried about the fate of the contents in my wallet. It seems like frequent mention of words like these only takes place under the seediest environments. So it is with college sports and in particular so it is with college basketball.

This past week, Harvey Araton yet again talked about Duke Lacrosse in the NY Times. One would think that the NY Times had moved its headquarters to Durham given the attention that it has paid to what should be a very local issue. Are there no rapes or sports teams in New York? But I digress. In his latest installment on the Lacrosse Scandal, Araton focused on Coach K at Duke and why Coach K hasn’t said a word concerning the scandal. I won’t summarize his views, but in his article he makes allusions to the integrity of the Duke basketball program.

There is no integrity. It’s one of the curious myths that Duke somehow “does things right” when it comes to its basketball program.

The fact is that all of college basketball is a sewer. No one “does it right.” To be competitive in college basketball requires you to throw all integrity out the window. Duke is no different.

No, Coach K doesn’t run a program with integrity and he isn’t a man of integrity. Let me count the ways.

First, you bring in athletes that have no interest in school and have academic credentials well below the rest of the student body (average SAT scores about 500 points lower). In at least one case, you bring in an athlete from a high school diploma mill designed for athletes to avoid NCAA requirements.

Second, you work the academic system through sympathetic professors and “independent study” classes to ensure your athletes have to do little academic work, but remain academically eligible. As a former faculty member at Duke, I served on a committee that recommended restrictions on independent study classes. That recommendation went into the ether.

Third, you meddle in an athletics director search and make it impossible for Duke’s president to hire someone from the outside. Instead, you bully a university president to hire a friend of yours, Joe Alleva, even though the consensus is that he doesn’t have the skills for the job. I note that the Lacrosse Scandal might have been avoided if Duke had a capable athletics director. The same is true for the Baseball Scandal at Duke of last year.

Fourth, on the first day of the new president’s job, you show him who is boss by orchestrating a crass power play over a job offer that you have no real intention of taking. You and your friend Joe Alleva work over the new president for millions of dollars of concessions, the prize jewel being a separate practice facility for the basketball team.

Coach K is a talented basketball coach. But his program has no more integrity than any other major college sports program. It is in fact, like other sports programs,a sewer. As a man, he has no more integrity than is typical of successful, power hungry CEOs. I’d say his integrity relative to most other human beings is on the low side.

Why Duke and Coach K have been anointed as angels in the world of college basketball is a curious thing. But the facts belie the reputation. There are no angels in college basketball. College sports is about many things including “school spirit” and entertainment for alumni. But the words “college sports” and “integrity” are incongruous.…sports-in.html

Academics and Athletes


Outside the Lines’ segment examines school’s academic record among its athletes

February 27, 2002
Herald Sun

Duke’s men’s basketball program often basks in the limelight cast by ESPN.

But Friday night, the sports network will shed a somewhat less flattering light on the program.

The network’s ‘Outside the Lines’ series will debut a one-hour show entitled ‘Zero Percent: College’s Basketball Graduation Crisis,’ on Friday at 8 p.m.

While the investigative report focuses on the fact that 36 Division I schools didn’t graduate a single black men’s basketball scholarship player that enrolled from 1990-94, the show also devotes a section to Duke.

In introducing the 10-minute piece, host Bob Ley holds up Duke as the gold standard for a successful balance of athletic and academic success. But while Ley says that Duke had a 100-percent graduation rate in three of the five years chronicled, ‘the reality might not be as ideal as advertised.’

‘Sometimes the Dukes of the world get a free pass, even from the media,’ said Steve Delsohn, the ‘Outside The Lines’ reporter for the Duke portion of the episode. ‘So I think it’s healthy to sometimes look at schools that have a pristine reputation to see if it holds up.

‘We were looking at schools with lower graduation rates, so we decided we should also look at some of the schools with high graduation rates to see if that equated with guys getting a strong education or if there was some coasting going on.

‘It’s not positive; it’s not negative. It’s just fair.’

The report doesn’t accuse Duke of any wrongdoing, but it suggests that Duke athletes get the chance to load up on easy classes with a preferential registration system.

It says that Duke basketball players gravitate toward sociology, which is considered by some to be one of the easier majors at the school, and it questions the difficulty of the summer-school and independent-study courses that have helped juniors Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer close in on graduating in three years.

‘You always look for ways to do things better, and the questions that this show raises and that other people are raising are all legitimate questions,’ Chris Kennedy, Duke’s senior associate director of athletics, said after viewing the show for the first time Tuesday afternoon. ‘You always have to ask those questions, and you always have to look at your practices and your results in light of those things.

‘Having said that, I think we do a pretty good job of educating them in all kinds of ways. If you could somehow get the freshman Nate James and the senior Nate James in a room at the same time and somehow talk to them, you’d be struck by how [he has] developed and matured and grown. And that’s a result of the total experience – the classroom, the basketball, the social, the responsibilities that they have to assume.’

The ESPN report quotes Stuart Rojstaczer, an environmental-sciences professor at Duke, as saying that athletes get ‘first dibs’ on registering for easier classes.

Kennedy said that about two years ago, the school began putting all athletes in the first registration group within their class.

Kennedy said the change was made because athletes generally need to secure morning classes in order to free up their afternoons for athletics.

‘That doesn’t mean, as the show implied, that athletes get first crack at all classes and fill up classes ahead of everybody else,’ Kennedy said. ‘That can’t happen under that system.’

Kennedy also questioned the idea that sociology is the major that athletes flock to because of its reputation as an easy major. According to Kennedy, a study of grade distributions puts sociology in the middle of the pack at Duke.

The report also examines how Boozer and Williams have gotten into position to graduate in three years by taking heavy course loads in summer school.

Boozer and Williams both took two independent-study classes during Duke’s second summer session. The show states that during half of the six-week session, Boozer was out of town practicing and playing with the U.S. team competing in the World Championship for Young Men.

Rojstaczer, however, said that independent-study courses run the gamut in terms of difficulty – for athletes and non-athletes alike. Some independent-study courses require constant contact with the professor; others require little more than a paper at the end of the session.

‘This idea that somehow summer school is by its nature easier than the rest of the year is vastly oversimplified,’ Kennedy said. ‘There are things about it that make it more conducive to students doing well – there’s nothing else going on, there’s nothing else to do. You’re not playing or practicing, so your time is all your own.

‘So the context of summer school might make it more conducive to doing good work, but I don’t believe the courses themselves are easier.’

Rojstaczer told The Herald-Sun last week that he believes the system, not the athletes, are to blame for the difficulty schools have balancing athletics and academics.

He said that men’s basketball players are expected to concentrate on their sport year-round, making it all but impossible for them to concentrate their energies on academics.

‘It’s a system that is set up for failure,’ Rojstaczer said. ‘They have a full-time job; what do you expect them to do?

‘There aren’t enough hours in the day.’