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Pay athletes, distance academia from sports

BY SAMUEL CLEARY | DECEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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The time for prolonged gossip in the scandal surrounding the Penn State football program has passed. The question now is, what can we learn and what do we do?

The situation presents a new opportunity to examine the potential sensibility behind the age-old idea of paying student-athletes instead of enrolling them.

Yet, the argument this time around isn't one of what's fair for the athletes — that issue has been debated exhaustedly — it's a matter of what's best for the schools that their teams supposedly represent.

The recent allegations against Penn State athletics personnel are yet another indicator of a flawed system. Across the country — especially in the past year — the reputations of prestigious universities have been periodically tarnished by top-rate football programs that seem to serve as a breeding ground for poor judgment and a lack of moral fiber.

The time is fast approaching for universities, including the University of Iowa, to consider distancing themselves from their sports programs. It's time for universities to start seriously considering creating a clear division between academics and athletics, similar to that of church and state.

There really isn't a method for dividing academics and athletics beyond the financial realm. After all, no one's going to argue that we should cut athletics programs because of one incident. These teams have a fanbase only because there are many associated with a given university. Yet the issue that is steadily arising as of late is whether these programs add to creating a positive image for the schools they are supposed to represent.

Colleges are institutions for higher learning, and the vast, vast majority of those in attendance at American universities have little to no direct association with the football program (or any sports program, for that matter).

Think of your school like a family name. You wear it proudly. You would never forsake it. Yet, like a little brother who can't seem to stop getting arrested, there comes a time when we must not abandon but at the very least detach ourselves from these "bad seeds" — even if we do love them. It's not an act of treason; it's a matter of pragmatism, of sensibility, of security, of respect not only for one's "family" but also oneself.

There will come a time, Hawkeye fans — whether it's tomorrow or in 10 years — when you will have to decide whether you are a fan first or a student first. Far too often, students across America identify themselves principally with a team, an idea, or an environment rather than an academic institution. Some might disagree, but the very fact that "Hawkeyes" is synonymous with "University of Iowa" is in itself a flawed and depressing reality. No man of dignity, no pioneer, no proponent of progression founded any academic institution on the basis of athletic pursuits. The close relationship between athletics and academics is a product of tendency and time.

What's it going to take for us to wake up? Players accepting tattoos in exchange for jerseys and autographs? A wide receiver getting busted for possession of marijuana? (Such as ex-Hawkeye receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos). Or will we have to wait for some horrifying sexual scandal to grab this city by the neck and strangle it in front of the entire nation?

We've had problems before. Nothing's changed. No one's said anything. It's happening now in University Park as students continue to rally behind Paterno and the administration of a team that has reportedly perpetuated tragic events, and it's going to happen again.

Next time, it could be us, and it could be worse. Student-athletes might not be the root of the problem. But it's hard to deny that paying them, whatever the ramifications, would create a safe distance and a distinct division between the image of athletics programs and the image of the institution itself.


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