The UA's Intercollegiate Athletics Department Pulls In $20 Million A Year--So Why Does It Still Get State And Student Subsidies?
By Heather J. Lourie
SHAWN C. JARRETT thought he'd made the right decision when he signed his National Letter of Intent in 1991 to play football at the University of Arizona.
Coaches promised the outside linebacker he could major in business, which he'd studied at Pasadena City College. At first it seemed like a great deal: TV exposure, extensive travel and a scholarship that included tuition, books and living expenses.
After Jarrett arrived, however, academic advisors and coaches at the UA Intercollegiate Athletics Department (ICA) encouraged him to take psychology, which they regarded as an easier major. They made this recommendation despite Jarrett's plans to pursue a business career if he did not make it into the National Football League. Athletic Department advisors also wanted him to enroll in general electives taken by all incoming football players so he could focus on athletics.
"They have to make sure you stay eligible, so they put you into the easier majors," Jarrett says. "If they can put you into classes where you'll graduate and stay eligible, they will," even if the courses aren't subjects student-athletes are interested in and may not help them prepare for a career.
Jarrett also resented the way coaches and Athletic Department advisors constantly monitored his classes and academic work. He thought they were too intrusive and treated him like an errant child.
Jarrett is one of numerous UA athletes interviewed who say there are major problems with the way the Athletic Department treats the academic part of a student-athlete's life.
AS THE UNIVERSITY of Arizona re-examines its mission in the wake of continuing financial pressures, some faculty, students, legislators and the Arizona Board of Regents are re-evaluating the role of intercollegiate athletics on campus.
These issues are so serious that the regents devoted part of their October meeting to athletics, and Sen. Larry Chesley (R-Gilbert), chair of the appropriations subcommittee that considers university budgets, says he plans to ask "hard questions" about funding for the UA's Intercollegiate Athletics Department (ICA) at a Senate subcommittee hearing scheduled for February 2.
Meanwhile, professors and students are questioning how big-time sports fit with the academic goals of a top-20 research university in a time of continuing budget reductions. They're asking why the Athletic Department--which reported revenues of nearly $20 million last fiscal year--also reported receiving more than $1.4 million in state funding. In addition, ICA did not have to pay an estimated $1.3 million of overhead costs, which were partly subsidized by state money.
Critics point out that ICA's state funding would have been enough to support the operating budgets of the UA Statistics Department and Physical Education program, which the regents decided in June to eliminate, primarily because administrators said the UA did not have the money to support them.
Continuing to fund intercollegiate athletics while eliminating those units raises questions about the university's priorities, say critics such as Carol Bernstein, a research associate professor of microbiology and immunology who is the Arizona Conference president of the American Association of University Professors.
It's a "very poor balance of priorities" to fund with more than $1 million athletic programs that serve about 450 student-athletes, while cutting programs for thousands of undergraduates, Bernstein argues.
However, UA administrators say such views don't take into account the athletic department's contributions to the university and the community. They point out that state funding is only about 6 percent of ICA's budget, and that ICA has had financial difficulties for several years. "We need the money," says UA Director of Athletics Jim Livengood.
Officials Defend, Question ICA's Role
UA PROVOST PAUL Sypherd says competitive sports have "become a part of the life of the campus," and "part of the way that we draw the community in." He and other administrators say a successful sports program creates student and alumni loyalty.
But some faculty question this rationale. "If you deliver what the students come here for primarily, which is an education, you create more permanent loyalties than a few fond memories of seeing a few exciting sports events," says English Professor John McElroy, a Faculty Senate member.
"We have to weigh values here a little bit, and the academic values ought to be always considered more, I think, than the sports and entertainment values," McElroy adds.
Livengood says ICA also contributes other values to the university. He points out that intercollegiate sports increase the UA's name recognition and prestige, primarily through television exposure.
Administrators "could never afford to advertise and talk about the University of Arizona on the scope that athletics can provide," he says.
A recent Board of Regents report agreed, stating that each Arizona university "gains regional and national exposure through its athletic programs, which increases awareness about the institutions and their communities. Such exposure can also attract athletes and non-athletes to enroll at a particular school."
However, some state officials question whether these contributions are enough to justify the level of state funding ICA receives.
"I'm going to ask (UA President Manuel Pacheco) straight out, 'Why did you cut PE and keep your Athletic Department?' " says Chesley, who plans to investigate why the department doesn't pay for all its overhead expenses.
Regents Discuss Intercollegiate Athletics
IN RECENT MONTHS, several regents also have raised concerns about the role and public perceptions of intercollegiate athletics.
Last October part of the regents' meeting was devoted to a discussion of intercollegiate athletics at the three Arizona universities. The discussion focused primarily on the low graduation rates of Arizona student-athletes (See related story).
"The major reason for the student-athlete to come on board is not necessarily to get a zillion-dollar contract with the NFL or the NBA," Regent Judy Gignac said at the meeting. Student-athletes are in college to "get an education" and "hopefully to graduate with one of our institutions," she said.
The graduation rates in the "high visibility" men's sports are "deplorable," Gignac added in an interview.
Regent Rudy Campbell, who praised the universities' athletic departments for "outstanding leadership" and "excellent supervision" at the October meeting, questions the accuracy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association statistics. However, he says if the NCAA numbers are correct, he would be "disappointed" in the graduation rates.
After the October meeting, Gignac requested information from Arizona's three universities about the extent to which athletes are being admitted in categories other than the unconditional admission category; the ways in which athletic departments will deal with future NCAA eligibility standards; and the potential impact of tougher Arizona university admission standards on athletic programs.
The regents will continue to study issues related to athletics at a spring board meeting, possibly in March or April, Regent Eddie Basha says.
Athletics Vs. Academics
CRITICS CHARGE THAT ICA has spent millions of dollars in the last five years on facilities used by only about 450 intercollegiate student-athletes, roughly 1 percent of the total student population.
According to a July 1995 ICA capital projects report, the estimated total cost of some projects completed in 1994-95 included:
$667,200 for new seats in McKale Center;
$633,800 for the Gymnastics Practice Facility, used by 15 gymnasts, other student-athletes and participants in two activity classes that will be phased out.
ICA also spent more than $1 million on the basketball instant-replay scoreboard completed in 1990-91, the report states.
ICA capital projects completed since 1983 have cost more than $20.7 million, according to the report.
However, Livengood says "probably 90 to 95 percent" of those facilities have been built with funds and donations generated by ICA.
But critics argue that given ICA's ability to generate revenue, which it spends mostly on its own programs, providing the department with state funds undermines the UA's academic priorities.
Some UA administrators, including Provost Sypherd and Senior Vice President for Business Affairs Joel Valdez, say these objections are based on false assumptions and misunderstandings about ICA's budget, which has been reduced more than $500,000 in the past six years, according to regents' documents.
A 1994 regents' report says intercollegiate sports "comprise a key part of the college experience for many students, and are partially funded by state appropriations to maintain their quality and academic emphasis."
"We consider the Athletic Department as one of our academic units, in the sense that they teach and train...that's why they get state funding," says Sypherd, adding, "I'm not prepared to cut their state funding."
However, critics such as anthropology Professor Jane Hill say administrators seem to favor the Athletic Department over other academic units.
"The university has decided to make a big commitment to athletics...and to try to go for number one," Hill says. "It would be really nice if they had the same sort of commitment in English and neuroscience and evolutionary biology."
While UA administrators have made it clear "they are willing to go for the absolute top" in terms of recruiting coaches, some university departments have had to settle for second-rank faculty because administrators "weren't willing to pay market dollars to move top people here in the social sciences," Hill says.
Hill points out that operating budgets have remained stagnant in many areas for years. She adds, "classes are bigger" and "we have been cut on TA support." In addition, graduate students "take forever to finish because they get no support.
"I definitely have the impression that in the Athletic Department they go first class, and I can assure you that's not true in the rest of (the) university. We go coach if we go at all," Hill says.
Associate Professor of Classics Jon Solomon states bitterly that while ICA gets first-class locker rooms and training facilities, other departments struggle without adequate classrooms or teaching materials.
Livengood thinks many critics are not aware that during the past 15 years, most intercollegiate athletics facilities have been built with ICA revenues and private funds.
However, some critics, such as Grant Smith, director of the UA campus recreation unit, say state monies helped pay for some facilities used by ICA--such as McKale Center and Arizona Stadium.
Sypherd counters with the argument that the UA often spends "millions of dollars on facilities that only a small segment" of the university can use. For example, "a very small" portion of the student body will utilize the new Aeronautical & Mechanical Engineering building, he says.
Bernstein and others also point out that state funds are used to maintain ICA facilities, despite the department's considerable revenues.
In addition, state taxpayers indirectly subsidize some of ICA' s overhead costs, because the university does not charge the Athletic Department its true rate for administrative services, which include items such as utilities, according to the UA's administrative service charge study, completed in 1990.
Rick Bishop, UA associate controller, says if ICA were to cover the full costs, it would have to pay an annual administrative service charge of 17 percent. It currently pays 7.5 percent, meaning taxpayers are partly subsidizing ICA's overhead in excess of an estimated $1.3 million a year.
However, Bishop and others point out other auxiliary units--such as Cultural Affairs, Residence Life and Flandrau Planetarium--don't pay full costs, either.
Bishop says ICA could not maintain a first-rate program without this reduced administrative service charge, and that charging ICA a lower rate represents a "policy" decision about the university's priorities.
UA Chief Budget Officer Dick Roberts says this decision does divert money from academic programs.
When units such as ICA don't pay their full overhead rate, "that's by definition taking dollars off the table someplace else in the institution. You're doing a subsidy, and I think you've got to be honest about that," Roberts says.
OTHER CRITICS, SUCH as English Professor John McElroy, believe if administrators were committed to ensuring athletics has a strong academic component, they would not have recommended killing the Physical Education program, which had a national reputation and provided Arizona schools with trainers, coaches and teaching interns.
The PE program "added to the prestige of the University of Arizona academically," and dismantling it was "a flagrant act of disregarding the public interest," says McElroy, a member of the Faculty Senate review committee that recommended against closing the program.
Still others are troubled because the primary justification for closing the program was lack of money. Administrators said eliminating PE would save the university about $700,000 a year.
But Psychology Department head Lynn Nadel, former chair of the UA's Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, argues the closure was justified because "a lot of money was being used to pay temporary faculty--who had no particular academic function--to teach activity classes."
Sypherd says he doesn't consider activity classes such as "golf and tennis and aquatics to be essential to healthy bodies and minds." Sypherd supports the idea of the UA recreation center offering such classes for a fee.
The decision to close PE--and administrators' recommendations the Statistics and Journalism departments also be eliminated--intensified discussions about the role of intercollegiate athletics at the UA.
Former acting Humanities Dean Norman Austin, who was head of the Faculty Senate review committee that opposed administrators' recommendations to close the Journalism Department, says he supports intercollegiate athletics, but is concerned ICA's relationship to the university is "sort of the tail wagging the dog."
Intercollegiate athletics once was "a kind of perk that came along with the university, but now it's a huge business. Twenty million bucks a year is big business," Austin says.
Some faculty question why ICA can't live on its $20 million in revenues. Critics point out that some schools with major sports programs, such as Purdue, Nebraska and Ohio State, take little or no direct state funding.
Doug Clay, Ohio State business manager for intercollegiate athletics, says, "We've never received state support" because the university views athletics "as an extra-curricular activity rather than a mainstream academic program."
"If you support Ohio State athletics, you do it with direct contributions or the purchase of a ticket to an athletic event," Clay says. "It's our university's posture that the athletic department will stand on its own--and not be a burden to the taxpayer."
LIVENGOOD AND OTHER ICA officials have different ideas concerning ICA's relationship to the university. They point out that ICA creates a positive economic impact on the institution and builds community spirit.
"I would never say it is a business, 'cause it isn't. It's one facet of higher education," Livengood says. However, ICA "needs to be run like a business," because "so much of the revenue comes from different kinds of things," unlike a department "that's going to get a budget and needs to operate within that budget and doesn't really maybe have revenue potential."
Nadel and other faculty members say the Athletic Department should contribute money to academic programs, especially during prosperous years.
Livengood replies that in addition to funding the band, ICA employs "tons of students," most of whom are not athletes. "That's a way of funding a lot of different programs," he says.
Livengood adds that ICA would gladly contribute more to academic units in good years if the UA would promise to provide more money in bad years. He adds the regents require the Athletic Department to have a positive fund balance at the end of each fiscal year--and those balances have been shrinking, from $500,000 several years ago to less than $100,000 last year.
"Many people look at athletics sometimes as being the potential of a cash cow...and that's just not the way it is," says Livengood, adding that the department is considering laying off workers because of financial difficulties.
Students Shut Out?
DURING THE PAST five years, registration fees for in-state students have increased more than 25 percent. Tuition and registration fees for out-of-state students have increased 22 percent during that time, according to regents' statistics.
Meanwhile, in 1994-95, ICA received about $466,000 from UA student monies.
Thus it's not surprising many students complain that while each year part of their tuition goes to support ICA, most of them can't get season tickets for the most successful UA sports team in history, men's basketball.
Students get about 2,500 seats in McKale--about 18 percent of the arena's 14,000 seats, says Darlene Castelan, UA ticket manager. The UA divides the season into two parts, each of which comprises seven home games. Two thousand "season" tickets are sold for each part of the season. Five hundred single tickets are sold prior to each game.
Sergio Jasso, a UA student government senator, says, "It's not fun to cheer and go to games" when most spectators are not students. The university should "give the students a chance to get down there and go crazy at games."
Livengood says he's "very concerned about the number of students who get into McKale for basketball" games, adding ICA is trying to address the problem.
Sypherd says it's "not fair" that there aren't enough student seats at basketball games. "I don't think there's any doubt about the fact that we're squeezing students out in order to gain revenue."
But some faculty and administrators are not sympathetic to student complaints.
They point out that students receive a reduced rate on tickets in exchange for the portion of tuition that supports ICA.
Boyd Baker, a physical education program interim administrator, says, "It's magnificent they can allow...18 percent of those premium seats to be sold to students at way below market value."
He says he would gladly refund the $400,000 in student tuition money if ICA were then allowed to sell every one of the basketball seats at top dollar, because ICA would "recoup that $400,000 in a heartbeat."
Some students think refunding their money is a good idea. They question why any of their tuition funds go to support ICA rather than a more academic unit, such as the library.
Regent Campbell, who thinks the Athletic Department should be self-supporting because "it's entertainment," says UA President Pacheco could recommend to the regents that local tuition dollars be distributed in a different way, and the board then could approve or disapprove that recommendation.
The Weekly tried for more than two weeks to ask Pacheco whether he would make such a recommendation, but his spokeswoman said he didn't have time for an interview.
EVEN MANY FACULTY and students who favor using tuition funds to support intercollegiate athletics are angry that some facilities used by ICA are closed to the general student body, including students on intramural and club sports teams. They say this is an example of misplaced university priorities.
UA freshman Josh Proctor observes, "It seems like a one-way street with the Athletic Department. Part of our tuition money goes to support athletics, and then they (ICA officials) turn around and spend it" on facilities for only a handful of students to use.
Mirum Washington White, UA assistant director of intramural sports and sports clubs, says hundreds of students can't participate because facilities--such as the football practice field, football stadium, softball field and baseball field--are not open to general students who want to play intramural and club sports.
Each year about 400 students are turned away from intramural football, softball and soccer programs because there isn't enough field space, White says. Another 430 students who play club sports must practice off-campus, he says.
Livengood says he wants to open more facilities, but questions about scheduling conflicts and higher maintenance costs must be resolved first.
He says a top program requires excellent facilities. "If we're going to stay competing at this level in this conference...there's absolutely no choice" but to spend money on facilities, he says.
Dick Bartsch, a UA associate athletic director, says if ICA opened facilities for "general use for the student population," the "facilities would be used to such a point where they wouldn't be top-notch."
ICA uses the facilities continually because the NCAA has instituted legislation that allows coaches to work with players during the off-season, Bartsch says.
All of which prompts Grant Smith to observe, "It's unfortunate that the Athletic Department uses scheduling conflicts and extra maintenance costs as a smoke screen" to prevent general students from getting official access to some facilities.
"This university is supposed to be for our students first, and our students should be able to use the facilities," Smith says.
Bartsch points out that the Athletic Department "may be controlling" facilities because they are "in our domain," but adds, "Everything on this campus belongs to the university."
Livengood says, "I would be in favor of taking a look" at allowing more access to ICA facilities. "My track record at the two previous institutions (where he worked) is we've opened up facilities as much as we can to students when they're not in use."
He says the main problem is the university doesn't have enough field space, and "I don't know that it's up (to) athletics to solve" that problem.
John Taylor, dean of the College of Education and a member of the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, which advises Pacheco, says he doesn't want to open ICA facilities, but instead favors providing non-athletes with "equal, but separate" facilities.
Sypherd says, "There are fields all over the City of Tucson" on which students can play intramural and club sports.
None of these arguments changes the view of Sen. Chesley, who says the principal problem is that ICA officials "spend money like they're going out of style."
"You spend $650,000 on new seats at McKale Center, maybe that's reasonable, maybe it's not. But when it isn't your money, you don't care. That's the really big point."
'It's A Business'
Critics Say The UA Micro-Manages The Lives Of Student Athletes To Maximize Its Investment.
Although the department's personnel--which include administrators, advisors and coaches--say academic work comes first, many of the two dozen UA players interviewed for this story say athletes are expected to devote about 40 hours each week to their sport. The department's academic support program emphasizes staying eligible--not learning and getting an education, these athletes say.
Arash Feyzjou, head football manager, says the Athletic Department's academic personnel have "the hidden motto: 'to keep athletes eligible, at the very least.' " They believe that "if athletes graduate and have career goals, that's wonderful, as long as they can play when they're here," Feyzjou says.
Former UA football player Mu Tagoai understands the rationale. "The coaches have a lot at stake because we are their livelihood," he says. "If you're a coach and we don't win, you're looking for another job." Tagoai, who signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys last year, attended the UA for five years, but did not receive a degree.
An investigation of the Athletic Department's academic practices and policies, which included interviews with UA athletes, administrators and Athletic Department personnel, revealed several serious issues, including:
The Athletic Department spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on academic support and personal development programs for student-athletes, but the UA has one of the lowest graduation rates in the Pacific-10 Conference, according to a 1995 National Collegiate Athletic Association report. However, the report also shows that the graduation rate for all UA undergraduates is among the lowest in the Pac-10.
The University does not provide general students with the same "intensive care-giving" and "monitoring" that student-athletes get, says Lynne Tronsdal, UA assistant vice provost for undergraduate education. In addition, students with learning disabilities must pay thousands of dollars each year for services athletes receive free.
Numerous athletes say Athletic Department rules in the academic support program seem counter-productive or humiliating. However, ICA officials say these practices provide positive reinforcement.
UA athletes say they devote about 40 hours each week to their sport, much more than the 20-hour limit prescribed by the NCAA. This limits the time athletes have for studying and class assignments. UA officials say they require only 20 hours a week, and that students do extra athletic training on a volunteer basis.
THE UNIVERSITY OF Arizona's academic support program, designed to improve athletes' grades and graduation rates, was established in 1980 with one academic advisor, says Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose, a UA senior associate athletic director.
The program now includes two academic coordinators, two senior academic advisors and a personal development program coordinator, says Mike Fisher, director of academics for the Athletic Department.
ICA spent $460,000 in 1993-94 for the academic support program, and an additional $80,359 for the personal development program, according to the UA Athletic Department annual report. A majority of the costs comprised salaries and supplies.
The program served all of the approximately 450 athletes in 1993-94, the latest year for which statistics are available, says John Perrin, senior associate director of athletics for business affairs.
Cheerleaders, team managers and trainers are also eligible for the academic support program, Fisher says. However, these students predominately use the tutoring and supervised study services.
The program provides athletes with academic advisors who track their progress; the opportunity for advanced class registration so they can sign up for classes before other undergraduates; free private tutors; free note-takers when athletes are injured; access to about 20 computers and a library catalog in a special facility in the Athletic Department; quiet study rooms at McKale Center; and delivery of textbooks to the Athletic Department so athletes don't have to wait in line at the bookstore.
All incoming athletes are given an academic evaluation based on test scores and grade point averages, says Tom Perry, former UA senior academic advisor for the football team. Academic coordinators then determine whether an athlete is "at-risk" for failure before he or she starts school, he says.
"Academically challenged" student-athletes (also referred to as "at-risk" students) "are normally high in intelligence and low (in) preparation," Fisher says. These students work seven days a week with a coordinator in a "highly disciplined" environment that concentrates on "very intensive learning strategies," he says.
Other undergraduates do not have access to such wide-ranging, free academic services, but Athletic Department officials defend providing athletes with advantages other students don't have.
High-powered Division I sports put so many time limitations on student-athletes that Athletic Department officials "have an obligation to support" athletes and "ensure their success and graduation," LaRose says.
Programs for general students
THE $460,000 THE Athletic Department spent on academic support programs in 1993-94 worked out to about $850 for each of the 540 athletes and related personnel that it served. In comparison, the university spent about $250,000 on the University Learning Center--excluding minority and testing services--that served 6,170 students with hands-on academic assistance, such as counseling, in 1993-94. This works out to $40 a student, for a program that is less extensive than the one provided for student-athletes.
Lynne Tronsdal points out that the university offers a wide range of academic support services to general students in addition to the ULC. These include programs that help students decide on a course of study, career counseling services, group tutoring in individual departments and academic advising by various colleges. However, these services are "less extensive" and are "diffused" across the campus, she says.
According to Sylvia Mioduski, program director of the University Learning Center, the program for non-athletes does not provide free individual tutoring to any students. Free group tutoring is only available at the ULC for first-year undergraduate students, minority students and students receiving need-based financial aid, she says.
A 1994 Arizona Auditor General report on student support services at Arizona's three universities concluded student-athletes and honors students receive excellent academic services, while other students do not.
According to the report, the ratio of students to full-time professional advisors should not exceed 300 to 1. However, at UA and ASU the ratio can be as high as 1,000 to 1, the report said.
Athletic Department personnel defend the special no-cost academic resources, saying athletes need these services because of demands on their time.
In a sense, "it's a catch-22," because athletic practices usually are in the afternoon, when most academic support services available for other UA students are offered, LaRose says.
Some athletes also defend their academic privileges.
"It's essential for athletes to register early," says Tony Bouie, a former UA football free safety who signed a free-agent contract with Tampa Bay's National Football League team last year. "It would take away from practice time (and) game time" if an athlete could not get morning classes.
All incoming student-athletes' classes for the initial semester are selected by academic advisors, says Mary Anne Schiavone, former academic outreach counselor.
After the first semester, most athletes are given a curriculum guide, a transcript and a list of suggested classes that will fulfill general education requirements, Fisher says.
Advisors schedule "at-risk" athletes into classes that match their "aptitude," Perry says. For example, an advisor might place an athlete into a theater arts class rather than a more rigorous philosophy class if both fulfill the same requirement, because this provides "more opportunities for success," he says.
"There is no doubt" student-athletes get more hands-on academic services than other undergraduates, says Barbara Sands, UA economics associate professor and a former Faculty Senate representative to the Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, which advises UA President Manuel Pacheco.
She regards this extra academic support as a payback for performing "a service for the university."
Mike Fisher says the academic support program exists because the athletes earn the money to pay for it "through the events that they compete in." He points out football is "the only activity on campus where you can get killed. Damon Terrell died last August--there's not another activity at the university with any risk like this involved."
Athletic Department officials say the programs are funded primarily from sports revenues.
SOME ATHLETES AND STATISTICS indicate the academic support program is ineffective for some students.
A graduation report prepared by the NCAA in 1995 shows that:
The UA ranked ninth among Pac-10 schools for the percentage of male athletes who entered as freshmen from 1985 to 1988 and graduated within six years. Forty-one percent of male UA athletes graduated within that time. Male UA undergraduates who did not have access to the same academic support services as these athletes had a higher graduation rate of 47 percent, but this also ranked ninth in the Pac-10.
Only 20 percent of male basketball players who entered the UA between 1985 and 1988 graduated within six years of their entrance. This figure tied with the University of Southern California's for last place in the Pac-10 and was below the 44 percent NCAA national average for male basketball players at 302 institutions.
Among Baseball players who entered the university from 1985 to 1988, the UA graduated only 5 percent within six years of their entrance. The percentage was the lowest in the Pac-10 and far below the 46 percent national average.
Fifty-one percent of football players who entered from 1985 to 1988 graduated within six years, which is only seventh among Pac-10 schools.
Nevertheless, that rate is equal to the national average for football players, and is higher than the rate for all male UA undergraduates.
The NCAA graduation rates are based on a comparison of the number of scholarship student-athletes who entered a college or university and the number who graduated within six years from that same college or university. The survey only looks at athletes who received sports-related financial assistance. Those who left the institution, including those who transferred to other schools, are counted as non-graduates.
Despite these statistics, director Mike Fisher says "the retention rate is way up" for student-athletes who entered in 1991.
The university's 1994 Football Media Guide states UA student-athletes have one of the "highest graduation rates in the Pacific-10 Conference."
However, statistics from the 1993 NCAA graduation-rates report indicate the UA ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-10 Conference, not near the top.
A report presented at a Board of Regents meeting last October stated UA student-athletes have had lower average cumulative grade-point averages since 1989-'90 than other full-time undergraduates who have not had access to the same support services.
In addition, male athletes had lower GPAs than their female counterparts. In 1994-95, male athletes had a 2.47 GPA and female athletes had a 2.81 GPA. Male basketball players had a 2.17 GPA and football players had a 2.35 GPA. The GPAs for all full-time undergraduate men and women were 2.78 and 2.93, respectively.
Academically, the revenue sports teams are not doing "all that well," Regent Judy Gignac said at the October Board of Regents meeting. She added that "the numbers look good" when they're cumulative, because they include the women athletes' statistics--which tend to be much higher.
Keeping Athletes Eligible
SOME ATHLETES SAY the support services are ineffective, and discourage serious academic study.
"For the first year or two they pick all the classes for you," says Reggie Geary, who has never opened a Schedule of Classes in all his years at the UA. Academic advisors schedule new basketball players into non-demanding electives, such as health and sex education courses, "to get you the highest GPA possible," he says.
"They set your GPA up real high" for the first year, so "you can ride it out" and remain eligible, Geary says.
Shawn Jarrett was shocked when he arrived for his first semester at the UA and realized an academic advisor had enrolled him in two classes he'd already taken at Pasadena City College.
Advisors "pretty much implied" business classes would be too difficult, he says. After his first semester, Jarrett decided to work with advisors at the business college and "have nothing to do" with the academic support program provided to UA student-athletes.
He graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in economics and finance.
Nevertheless, Fisher defends the academic support office.
"I can't sit here and tell everybody they're going to be an engineer," Fisher says. "They may want to be an engineer when they come, but we have to find the appropriate place for people, and sometimes we have to say things to young people that are difficult for them to swallow, but that's our job, and they don't have to take the advice."
Jarrett is similar to thousands of Division I student-athletes who pour their sweat and blood into a university sports system that allows them to chase the dream of becoming a professional athlete while earning a degree--as long as they stay eligible to play.
Lamont Lovett, a former UA football running back who graduated with a media arts degree in 1994, says coaches and advisors stopped monitoring his academic progress after he finished his last playing season in 1993-94.
"In general, it all stops after your eligibility is up. You're not a service to them any longer," he says. "To them, it isn't so important that you are doing well in school. The bottom line is if you can play."
Regent Eddie Basha believes the university's low graduation rate for student-athletes indicates the programs are "in part" exploitative.
"People come to our universities to learn, to develop career paths, and if they're invited to our university or they're asked to enroll in our university for the purpose of participating in athletics only, and neglecting education, then I think that's wrong."
JARRETT AND OTHERS complain the academic support system tries to force athletes to stay eligible by closely monitoring their study hours and class attendance while physically punishing them when they don't follow the rules.
Former UA football player Thomas Demps, who recently joined the basketball team, expected to see an attendance monitor at almost all his classes during the 1994 spring semester, because his grades were close to a 2.0.
"I had my own personal spy," says Demps, who believes such measures are counter-productive. "Just because you go to class doesn't mean you'll pay attention."
NCAA rules allow academic advisors to monitor student-athletes. Each year all UA student-athletes and their counterparts at other NCAA schools are required to sign a consent form before they're allowed to compete.
The form allows "authorized representatives" of the university to view and monitor student-athletes' education records.
Although student-athletes "give up their right to privacy," the system is necessary because university officials must monitor student-athletes' eligibility, says MaryAnne Schiavone, who once advised female athletes.
Classroom checks are routine because if "at some point a student-athlete is not fulfilling their obligation (to go to class), you need to know that," says LaRose, who played softball for the UA during the late 1970s.
Some advisors disagree with the policy of classroom checks, saying they're not an effective method for encouraging athletes to attend.
"If you're trying to make a man out of someone, you don't baby-sit them and follow them to class," says academic program coordinator Ruben Berry, who thinks the primary motivation to go to class should be the rewards of learning. "What's going to happen to you when your eligibility expires and you have to try to get a job? No one is going to force you to go to work."
Mike Fisher explains, "Many of the faculty believe that we should not check classes and we should not monitor (performance)." However, athletes are invited to the UA and are given a scholarship to "perform for the university.
"We have the responsibility to make them go to school--or try to make them go to school--and I'm under oversights from higher administration within the university to ensure that they make progress," Fisher says, adding his statements are his personal opinion.
Coaches require some student-athletes to attend monitored study hours. In addition, the academic office sends mid-semester grade checks to instructors of "targeted" athletes, Fisher says.
The forms ask instructors to estimate the student-athlete's current grade; to assess his or her strengths and weaknesses; and to provide guidance about whether the student should drop the course, seek tutorial assistance or have a student-instructor conference.
"We receive about a 60 percent return rate" of all mid-semester grade reports, Tom Perry says.
Athletes are monitored even more intensely if these reports are not positive, Perry says. In some cases, the students are assigned a tutor and informed they will have random class checks. In other cases, the student-athlete is told to show all classroom work to an advisor before and after it's graded, Perry says.
Fisher says "targeted students," who are predominately on the revenue-producing teams, are usually monitored more intensely than other student-athletes. For example, most football and basketball players must attend study hall and tutorial sessions in addition to providing the academic office with tests and papers before or after they're due.
Lamont Lovett was required during his sophomore spring semester to show one coach every class assignment before he turned it in and after his teacher had graded it. Even though he wasn't on academic probation, the Athletic Department thought he needed closer monitoring.
Lovett thinks Athletic Department officials try to exert too much control over student-athletes. "When you have to be on a certain schedule" and are punished for not complying, "I'd call that control," he says, adding he and others felt humiliated by these measures.
ATHLETES WHO VIOLATE the Athletic Department's rules receive various punishments, players say.
Football players are told to lie down on the ground and roll up and down the football field until they're dizzy. Basketball players are told to squat down--keeping their hands and legs on the floor--and push a towel across the McKale basketball court several times until their arms and legs hurt, says Joseph Blair, a UA senior basketball center who was recently declared academically ineligible.
Extra running is also a standard method of discipline, football and basketball players say.
"For every hour of (of class) that you miss, you have to run an hour," says Blair, who was required to run every morning at 6 a.m. for six weeks last year because some coaches thought his grades were not high enough, even though he says they met NCAA and Arizona Board of Regents standards. "You just go through with what they tell you" and "follow orders," he says.
If a football player breaks the rules, his coach may call him at 6 a.m. and order him to run laps around the field or roll on the ground for 10 to 15 minutes until the player "feels sick and nasty," Jarrett says.
UA Head Football Coach Dick Tomey, known for his commitment to academics, says "most of the time we try to use an academic experience" as a penalty for not going to class. He adds, "The guys have to go to class," even if their schedules conflict with practice.
Fisher says many UA coaches "have decided that we're going to become extremely disciplined and that it's going to start in the classroom." He adds the discipline measures are going to get "much worse," and "for those that complain about the consequences, get ready for the apocalypse coming this spring." He adds, "Draconian measures are necessary to make people understand the coaches really mean business."
Huge Time Commitments
ATHLETES SAY ANOTHER practice that undermines their academic performance is the fact they must spend many more hours in athletic activities than NCAA rules permit in order to compete for playing time.
According to Bylaw 220.127.116.11 in the 1994-95 NCAA Manual, "a student-athlete's participation in countable athletically related activities shall be limited to a maximum of four hours per day and 20 hours per week."
Academic advisors, numerous athletes and some administrators agree most students devote about 40 hours a week to their sport during the playing season.
"Generally we've said it's like a 40-hour work week," LaRose says.
"You can only require student-athletes to be involved in athletically related activities for 20 hours per week," she says. However, athletes also have an "out," she explains.
"If a student-athlete wishes to volunteer their time beyond that" they can, LaRose says. "That's where we get caught up in (athletes) participating more than their 20 hours." The time to travel to an event, get dressed and stretch is not counted in the 20 hours, she adds.
Student-athletes say they leave their dorm rooms or apartments early in the morning and get back late at night during the playing season. For example, freshmen football players say they're required to attend a maximum eight study hours a week, plus team meetings, practices, strength and training workouts, critiques of game films and team meals.
A typical week during the season consists of seven hours of practice and 13 hours of meetings, watching films and weightlifting, says Dick Tomey. He adds a game is counted as three hours.
Nevertheless, a few players say if athletes expect to make the traveling squad and stay physically and mentally in shape, devoting only the required amount of time to their sport is insufficient.
"You always have to do more to actually make the traveling squad--to actually be a better athlete," says Mike Scurlock, former UA football cornerback who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams last year. "It may take more than 30 hours a week" to stay physically and mentally in shape.
In addition, players say the days spent going to away games cut down enormously on study time.
Road trips are "not conducive to anything else but playing," says former football player Mu Tagoai.
The men's basketball team travels Wednesday to Sunday and the football team travels Friday to Saturday. Nevertheless, the NCAA only counts a game--even though it may be out-of-state--as three of the 20 permitted hours.
"They wonder why we're failing," says Reggie Geary, adding the basketball team can attend only four days of class every two weeks during most of the season. "They give us an environment" where grades will be sacrificed, he says.
Some Athletic Department personnel are open about their priorities.
"Practice time has precedence over school time," says Ruben Berry, who oversees the tutoring program for student-athletes.
If a player schedules a class during practice and "it's not needed for graduation" usually a coach will request that an athlete "drop it," he says. "During basketball season you try to take classes that are less stressful, due to the fact that half your time will be spent playing basketball," Berry explains.
JARRETT AND LOVETT graduated in 1994. Each has a promising future. Jarrett has completed work toward a master's degree in international management at the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird Campus) in Glendale. Lovett is working as a news photographer at KGUN-TV, the ABC affiliate in Tucson.
Neither believes the academic support programs helped him prepare well for the career he's pursuing.
Lovett, who stayed with the support program, believes the monitoring by coaches and advisors was degrading and contributed little to his desire to learn or determination to complete his degree.
Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Cinema | Back Page | Forums | Search
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth