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Holland: Reform Requires Open Minds

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Terry Holland
For The ACC Sports Journal

March 15, 2004 Editor's note: This response, from former Virginia athletic director Terry Holland, was received in March via e-mail by ACC Sports Journal editor Dave Glenn. It is printed here with permission from Holland. It is followed by a brief biography (written by the Sports Journal) of Holland, then excerpts from the original article, written by Hall of Fame sportswriter Bill Brill. Bill Brill's reaction to recommendations for reform in intercollegiate athletics (“A Closer Look” in the Sports Journal's Feb. 19-March 3 issue) is a classic example of the gridlock that prevents serious discussion of any reform agenda. Everyone (college CEOs, athletic administrators, coaches, athletes and fans) tends to evaluate any reform measure solely by how it “might” affect his or her own program. (In Mr. Brill's case, that program obviously is the one at Duke.) This collective myopic approach precludes serious discussion of a constructive long-term vision for what intercollegiate athletics can and should be. While the majority of abuse currently occurs in the revenue sports of football and men's basketball, my experience as an athletic director has convinced me that every other sport is chasing the flawed model of the revenue sports as aggressively as they can. Mr. Brill proudly points out that the Duke women's golf team “plays no home matches. The Blue Devils go from coast to coast, and the tournaments they participate in often last three days. If it is a long trip, they likely will fly in two days in advance and play a practice round.” This is justified in Mr. Brill's estimation by the success of the team (currently ranked No. 1 in the country) and by the fact that the team members often make the ACC Honor Roll. First, and foremost, I cannot conceive of any parent of a student (non-athlete) at any college or university allowing his or her child to miss class regularly to “fly coast to coast” and do all the things that are required of these athletes, regardless of the student's ability to maintain a decent GPA. Such trips certainly would detract from the college experience for which that parent is paying $160,000 (at Duke). Assuming some percentage (even as much as 75-80 percent) of college athletes can make these coast-to-coast trips and still enjoy a full collegiate experience, actual experience shows that this percentage will move downward each year for any particular team engaged in such competition. This fact is the fallacy of short-term rationalization for status quo versus long-term vision. We should not knowingly pursue a course of action that will negatively impact a larger and larger percentage of our students each year. In today's economy, it is certainly difficult to make the argument that the cost of such trips is an appropriate and necessary use of any university's resources. And, using the unnamed ACC administrator's reasoning, there “simply isn't data available that would show” that playing home and regional matches would hinder any athlete's opportunity to improve her/his skills to the maximum. If such trips are deemed necessary and appropriate, there are a minimum of 242 days from Sept. 1 to April 30 of each year. Subtract 140 class days and another 20 days for exams, and that still leaves 82 days to travel and compete that would not interfere with class attendance. If that is not enough, then add in some or all of the 90-plus days of the summer, since all college athletes train and compete year-round anyway. The only sport that might have to miss more than one or two days of class per year would be men's basketball, and that is necessary only so television revenue can allow non-revenue sports to “fly coast to coast,” etc. However, judicious scheduling and use of charter aircraft for necessary class-day competitions could eliminate 70-80 percent of current men's basketball missed class time. Mr. Brill correctly points out that some teams cannot afford charter aircraft for class-day travel, but that ignores the fact that the only class-day travel that is necessary is for television revenue dates. Those teams cannot afford charter aircraft because they do not generate television revenue, and thus there is no need for them to play on class days. If there are not enough weekends currently available, then the starting date for competition can be moved forward as necessary. Why should faculty members accept the reasoning that athletes can perform just as well academically without attending class as when they attend class? Would coaches accept the premise that athletes can perform just as well without attending practice as when they attend practice? Concerning the rationalization that there “isn't data available that would show that making freshmen ineligible to play would enhance their chances of academic success down the road,” the NCAA's own research showed that “partial qualifiers” (a classification no longer in use by the NCAA) — who were allowed to practice, lift weights and do everything except compete as freshmen — graduated at a higher rate in four years than their supposedly “qualified” peers (who compete as freshmen) graduate in six years. Those “partial qualifiers” also made the starting lineup as sophomores at a higher rate than their peers who competed as freshmen. So sitting out their freshman year did not seem to negatively impact athletic development and clearly did enhance academic performance. “Problems cannot be solved in the context in which they were created” — Albert Einstein. Mr. Brill and I do agree (though many others do not) that college athletics and those who should be governing college athletics are addicted to money. As with most addictions, denial is always the first line of defense. And, with their huge salaries, even NCAA president Myles Brand and our university CEOs are heavily invested in the status quo. Thus, Mr. Brill is right that substantive attempts at reform “have no chance” in the current NCAA governance structure. Devra Lee Davis in her book, When Smoke Ran Like Water, recalls a Jewish Midrash (story-telling) traditional parable: “A group of workers is asked to do something quite difficult and complicated. They protest, ‘the day is short'; ‘the work is too hard'; ‘the project is too big'; ‘we do not have the right tools'; ‘and anyway, we are too tired'; ‘we will never finish this job!' Their teacher replies, ‘it is not for you to finish the task, but … you must begin.'” It is time to put aside our individual and institutional agendas, denials and rationalizations to create a vision for intercollegiate athletics that will enhance the experience for future generations of young people in our colleges and universities. Terry Holland, the former men's basketball coach (1974-90) and athletic director (1995-2001) at Virginia, has been a special assistant to UVa president John T. Casteen III since June 2001. Holland, of Clinton, N.C., played at Davidson from 1961-64 and served as the AD at his alma mater from 1990-95. He is a member of the Davidson Athletic, North Carolina Sports and Virginia (Commonwealth of) Sports halls of fame. From the recent Bill Brill article: A couple of silver-haired former college basketball coaches testified recently before another group of elder statesmen — the Knight Commission, headed by Bill Friday and Father Ted Hesburgh. Dean Smith, the winningest coach ever, and Terry Holland, who once coached three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson, look at the present athletic scene with jaundiced eyes. They would prefer changes — dramatic changes. Holland, 61, coached for 25 years and served as the athletic director at his alma mater, Davidson, and at Virginia, where he directed a successful basketball program for 16 years. He has a much more radical approach than Smith to their mutual concern for the perceived problem — a failure to truly educate men's basketball players — and he hasn't hesitated to challenge and boldly criticize the entire structure of college athletics. “It seems to me that, whether they want to be or not, (NCAA president Myles) Brand and the other presidents are prisoners of this huge cash-generating colossus,” Holland said. “No one can convince me they care one whit about the academic achievements of athletes. I don't see them backing any reform that represents any risk to them personally.” I have conferred with Holland several times in recent months via e-mail. I do not dispute the passion of his beliefs, which are diametrically opposed to those of most of today's basketball coaches. And it's not that I think necessarily that he is wrong. But I do believe that he — and Smith, whose 73rd birthday is this month — is not practical. What they want to happen simply isn't going to occur. … The problem I have with Holland and Smith is that they tend to throw everything into one basket. It simply can't work that way. It is accurate that money drives virtually everything today, especially among the major schools. But it also is true that not every school — in fact, the majority of them — could not do all of the things Holland and Smith would prefer. The ACC — rather, the “old” ACC — is a tight-knit geographic group. It would be possible to travel on game days, for example, by charter and go home that night. At the most, the players would miss one day of classes. But they miss only one day now, because those schools that charter leave in the afternoon, or evening, after classes. It does cost more money, because they have a hotel bill. There are widespread leagues, however, where travel can be a major problem. It's not easy to get to Corvallis, Ore., or Pullman, Wash., for example. And the “mid-majors,” which make up a significant majority in Division I, can't afford charters. They most often bus; if they fly, it's usually commercial. Their players are going to miss more class time than the big guys in the middle of the week. Holland has another radical idea. He would like to reward schools monetarily when they recruit players whose SAT scores are higher than 80 percent of the previous year's entering class. He also advocates paying $10,000 for each player who graduates in four years, and he would grant those players an extra year of eligibility that would not count against the NCAA scholarship limit. That sounds great. But it's another one-size-fits-all solution. Kennedy, for example, said Duke doesn't even have an SAT average any more. This fall, more than 2,600 students with SAT scores above 1,500 (and a significant number with a perfect 1,600) will not be admitted, “but plenty in the 1,200s will.” The overall student profile is considered, not just grades. Where Holland is right on the money — literally and figuratively — is when he said, “To get the money to build our facilities, we have promised our constituents that we are going to the next level, whatever that level may be. That means, at a minimum, being one of 64 in basketball or being top 25 in football, which means that 80 percent of your programs get a failing grade based on what you promised your constituents.” On that subject, and many others, the ex-coach is on target. Smith and Holland have plenty of accurate observations, creative ideas and good intentions. But whether or not their proposals would work, or ever get serious consideration, is another matter altogether. Bill Brill is a 1952 graduate of Duke who has written two books on Blue Devils basketball, one in coordination with Mike Krzyzewski. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, Duke Sports and Virginia (Commonwealth Of) halls of fame. He lives in Durham.  

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