Integrity Matters
December 10, 2003

Integrity in amateur sports goes beyond winning

Question: (E-080)

Dear Jim:

The misguided Bowl Championship Series (BCS) computer has screwed things all up. Dollars, scholarships and pro-football draft positions - as well as coaches' jobs at stake here. Computers don't have judgment. How can something this important be compromised by bureaucrats and computer match-ups?


The BCS process does appear to be flawed. Beyond that, though, you might want to consider a handful of questions fundamental to your inquiry:

  • What is the primary purpose of education, specifically higher education? Within that, what is the role of the sports program in the first place? Was it to teach the importance of physical health, honest competition, teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership? How, then, does the focus and frenzy devoted to the crowning of a national champion strengthen the capacity our nation's younger people to function effectively in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace?
  • How much time should young and gifted student athletes be expected to devote to sports travel, practice and performance activities? And how does that compare with the time that should be devoted to studying for the academic degree they have committed to earn (which most of them will need to earn a living for the rest of their lives)?
  • How appropriate is it for these young people to be required to keep this intense pressure on themselves beyond the regular sports season and receive performance pressure from parents, friends and coaches from middle school years onward? Remember, only a tiny fraction of those participating will have sufficient ability and desire to succeed as a professional in their sport, and even those will average less than five years as professionals.
  • Might this national frenzy with "crowning the champion" simply extend pressure on them that could contribute negatively to their lifelong effectiveness, especially if means sacrificing lifelong learning for the sake of short-term glory?
  • At many institutions of higher learning, sports programs are big business. How much time and pressure should student athletes need to accept in order to satisfy the desires of those who are too often using them for financial gain?
  • Might it not be appropriate to think of this time of year a little less about crowning and more about celebrating?

Integrity in amateur sport is not as much about winning as about education, nurture and relationships. There needs to be a more thoughtful assessment of what we are leaving as our legacy of values for and with these athletes.

Amateur sports need to be guided by adults who understand what it means to maintain a sense of proportion. If not properly guided, then sports will continue to provide a forum for angry and frustrated parents (and fans) who scream at coaches, fight in front of their children and set unrealistic expectations. We are better than that.

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