July 28, 2004
By Alex Schroeder
I was nine years old the first time I heard of the University of Colorado. That year, CU was the best collegiate football team in the country, and thats all that was important.
Fourteen years later on the other side of the country, the citizens of Raleigh are breathing a sigh of reliefMike Krzyzewski is going to be on the sidelines for Duke next year after all. This means that Duke can remain as one of the best collegiate basketball programs in the country, which is important.
With all of the student, administrative, and media appeals for his retention, one would think that Duke University was going to roll itself up and follow Coach K on the next plane to Los Angeles. All of the public sentiment and media attention stems from the national reputation of Dukes signature basketball team as opposed to its first class academic program.
Dukes newly appointed president, Richard Brodhead, has jumped on the basketball bandwagon by joining students in Krzyzewskiville, taking part in forming a human K, and pleading, Coach K, please stay. Also, Brodhead has reportedly made favorable changes to Krzyzewskis “lifetime” contract. This is in addition to previous arrangements for Krzyzewski such as a faculty appointment in the business department, the naming of Coach K Court in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and an office that rivals school administrators across the nation. With all of these concessions it seems logical for an outsider to question who actually wears the pants at Duke University.
A critical look at the unfolding of this recent development represents a broader trend in the shift of power at academic institutions from administrators to athletic departmentsany university faculty member with a lifetime contract please feel free to object. The effect trickles down from coaches, to players, to team mascots.
Enter Bobby Knight. His record would indicate that he is an excellent coach, but does he have the self-control to represent a respected institution of higher learning? After head butting a player, throwing chairs, swearing in public at both students and the media, and allegedly choking a player, he was dismissed from Indiana University. Apparently three strikes is only a theory of baseball. In the aftermath of Knights firing, administrators were plagued with complaints by alumni and students alike. A student that complained of Knights actions just prior to his firing has received several death threats.
Bobby Knight had a year off from coaching before being hired on at Texas Tech, again a sign that a strong athletic program is more important than the character of faculty members. Knight seemingly had cleaned up his act until a casual trip to the grocery store. It was by the salad bar that Knight unleashed a public display of obscenity on Texas Tech chancellor David Smith. Knight was reprimanded and allowed to coach the teams next game with little more than a slap on the wrist. The influence of athletic programs is not inclusive to coaches; it can seep into issues as seemingly arbitrary as a team mascot.
The University of Illinois, and moreover the state of Illinois, is torn over the status of Chief Illiniwek, its athletic mascot. The mascot has come under fire for presenting a racist icon and discouraging diversity at the university. Traditionalists argue that the Chief is part of the schools heritage and is a respectful tribute to the Illini Tribe. Meanwhile, the university is undergoing major budget cuts that are jeopardizing some departments in their entirety. Despite the threat posed to academics, the hot issue still swirls around the mascot. The debate and implications of the chiefs presence reach all the way to high powered Illinois businessmen and politicians. Since the issue was reignited before the Board of Trustees last fall, the Chancellor has left and the President has announced his retirement. The search is now on to find highly qualified replacement candidates that are also willing to step into the controversy.
Following in the wake of these events, among others, universities are left to order their priorities. Has a successful athletic program, with all of its licensing and attendance revenue, trumped the academic goals of the institution? Could the money that was spent buying all of the seats on a commercial airline flight for a single Florida football recruit be spent elsewhere at the school? Are athletes, coaches, and programs given an unfair advantage in influencing the policy of the school? Ask Nancy Cantor, former Illinois chancellor and the new chancellor at Syracuse, what she thought of the billboards calling for her job. Alternatively, you can ask Mike Krzyzewski what kind of job security a lifetime contract entails.
So now, fourteen years later the University of Colorado is back in the national spotlight. The front pages are filled with stories regarding sexual misconduct allegations throughout the hierarchy of the football program. Whether the allegations are true or not, they make a person step back and take a hard look at the state of collegiate sports. It would be interesting to see a comparison of how many people could name CUs starting quarterback with how many people know of Eric Cornells Nobel Prize winning work on the Bose-Einstein Condensate. All in a days work at a school of jocks.