Last week’s announcement that Notre Dame starting quarterback Everett Golson had been suspended for the entire 2013 season was shocking, but it’s an indicator that universities may finally be getting serious about holding student athletes to the same standards as other students.
According to his statement, Golson indicated that his integrity was “in question” and that he was booted from the team for his “poor academic judgment” – a euphemism for cheating. Due to the severity of the suspension, it’s likely that this was not a one-time occasion or an otherwise isolated incident.
Though the situation is hardly good PR for the Irish, the school must be given credit for taking the high road and electing not to provide preferential treatment to Golson due to his status.
The debate surely raged internally among coaches, boosters and the athletic department whether to mete out justice or sweep it under the rug. Golson had likely been allowed to get away with a certain degree of misconduct previously, but a line was breached at some level and action had to be taken.
Every college in the country nowadays faces this same dilemma of how much cheating or academic gimmickry it will tolerate among its student athletes- who are nearly always given more leeway than the average student because they provide much more value to the school’s brand.
The temptation, unfortunately, is strong for university administrators to look the other way- or even help facilitate the behavior- when these allegations arise.
The Gopher Men’s Basketball cheating scandal in the late 90s- when the team hired “tutors” to write papers and complete assignments on behalf of the players- is an ugly reminder of what can happen when cheating becomes institutionalized.
But college sports are not just another extracurricular activity and shouldn’t be looked at as such. They are big business and major drivers of revenue and publicity for the school. The incentive for allowing athletes to cheat their way through class so they can perform on the field will continue to exist. It’s ultimately up to university officials to set the culture and image that it will portray to the outside world.