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Respected Sports Journalist Endorses Benching Freshmen

Heights Editor

Published: Monday, April 23, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01

sports journo 4/23

Maggie Burdge / Heights Editor

Last Thursday night in Fulton 511, New York Times sports journalist Bill Pennington gave a talk to Boston College students titled “Finding value—and our way—in the minefield of BC Athletics.” Pennington, who has received the Associated Press Sports Editors Award six times, has been with the Times since 1997.

 According to Pennington, the NCAA and college athletics in general have long been in a troubled state. Graduation rates are falling, violations are increasing, and students are treating college as a simple stepping-stone to the pros instead of an educational experience. He cited the University of Connecticut and University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball teams in particular. The former is banned from playing next season due to low graduation rates and the latter sent numerous underclassmen, even some freshmen, to the pros after winning a national championship.

“They’re treating going to a prominent college like being stuck in O’Hare on a layover to Disneyland,” Pennington said in reference to Kentucky’s team.

Pennington then said he was going to focus on how to solve these problems in football and basketball, which are often the most profitable sports for schools because they provide national television exposure and millions of dollars in revenue.

“Does that mean that football and basketball get to do whatever they want?” he questioned. “The answer should be, no, no they should not. The arm that makes the money should not be in charge.”

The answer to make college athletics less of a rat race, said Pennington, is a problem that is almost impossible to completely solve. Many solutions have been proposed, including a popular one that suggests paying student athletes. Pennington said that this will never be accepted because it will hurt the appeal of college athletics.

“Paying these athletes seems to be all wrong,” he said. “It seems to be going down the wrong path and will not be embraced by American sports fans. The thought of being paid to play is ridiculous.”

The answer, Pennington says, lies within an old, long disregarded rule that says college freshmen cannot play varsity sports. This was the case in the early 1970s, during the eras of Larry Bird and Joe Montana. These sports icons did not play their first year, had successful college careers, and earned their degrees all before dominating the pros.

“I don’t think this is a coincidence,” he said. “Recruited athletes had times to acclimate themselves to college and prove that they wanted to be part of the environment. It was a system that weeded out the athletes who didn’t want to be in the classroom in the first place.”

This system, which is as different from red-shirting, as it would be uniform across the whole nation, would, according to Pennington, eliminate recruiting intensity, teach patience, and calm down the crazed college environment. “It would symbolically enforce the concept that you need to prove you are a college student before you represent the college,” he said.

Pennington also said there are 44,000 scholarships for Division I, and over 90 percent of these scholarships go to students not in the “big” sports. The NCAA should look at these students, see what they are doing to succeed in school and in sports, and learn lessons from them.

“The college system isn’t broken,” he said. “It just needs some fine tuning.”

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