Making Choices Consistent With Our Values


With increasing regularity, we are made aware of scandals in intercollegiate athletics. For some programs this surfaces in the form of recruiting violations, as others find ways to use money and other benefits to gain influence with athletes. A few push athletes beyond reasonable limits sometimes resulting in tragedy. As the regulations evolve with greater specificity and clearer interpretation, the creativity of those seeking an advantage keeps pace. It’s disappointing. We wonder how we ever got to this point. Where are the days when we engaged in intercollegiate competition for its wholesome appeal and benefits to students? Shouldn’t we return to our purer roots in the true spirit of athletic competition? Perhaps a history lesson is in order.

Frederick Rudolph, a well-regarded historian during his years on the faculty of Williams College authored, The American College and University: A History (1962, 1990). In his chapter, “The Rise of Football,” Rudolph chronicles the earlier days of the game as it emerged among students at our colleges and universities.

It took a few years for the game to catch on, but its growth was extraordinary. In 1873 football seemed sufficiently ridiculous to prompt a classic remark of President Andrew D. White of Cornell. In response to a challenge from thirty players of the University of Michigan who wanted to arrange a game in Cleveland, President White telegraphed: “I will not permit thirty men to travel four hundred miles to merely agitate a bag of wind.” (pp. 373-374)

Despite the objections of a few of higher education’s noted leaders, the rise of football was inevitable, seemingly without reasonable boundary conditions. Rudolph writes,

The need for regulation was generally admitted, for the game intruded a spirit of athletic professionalism into an atmosphere where many believed that it did not belong. One year in the 1890s the University of Oregon football team in three successive contests with three different colleges found themselves playing against the same young man.  (pp. 374-375)

The game, however, encouraged such a will to win that undergraduate and graduate imagination found its way around any traditional sense of ethics. A senior might invite the fullback on the freshman team to room with him and forget to ask him to share the charges. A student might make a preposterous wager with a star athlete and, of course, lose. Instead the money might go directly to a father or a brother. One college player so learned the price of his usefulness that without fear of failure he presented his laundry bill to the team manager just before game time with the words: “I cannot pay it. You pay it or I do not play.” Efforts to regulate the sport had difficulty keeping up with its growth. (p. 375)

Eighteen Americans died playing football in 1905. From the White House Theodore Roosevelt thundered that if the colleges did not clean up football he would abolish it by executive order. (pp. 375-376)

The setting and circumstances are different, but the headlines look familiar. Perhaps our nostalgia for the past conveniently sidesteps the realities of human behavior in a competitive landscape. We will risk a lot to establish and maintain a winning tradition.

Today, intercollegiate athletics is a highly professional and sophisticated enterprise. The NCAA was established in 1906 as a response to this late 19th and early 20th century history of athletic competition fraught with moral and physical peril. Yet with all the policies and regulations, associations and conferences, rules and officials, why do we still find ourselves encountering the misjudgments of individuals who are determined to find a way to win no matter the cost? Perhaps the only thing that can overcome the shadow side of athletics is a determination to make choices consistent with our values, where athletes and coaches set their sights first on being students and educators.

I was deeply honored to participate in the activities related to the 50th anniversary of Ron Schipper’s arrival at Central College as a football coach. I never had the privilege of meeting him, so I have only been able to understand his legacy through the eyes of others. It was remarkable to hear so many stories from alumni in general and former football players in particular, as they recounted the experiences they had with Coach Schipper. I found it so interesting that the vast majority of the memories had little to do with wins and losses. The experiences these alumni valued most were times when he taught them lessons in attitude and character. He cared about much more than the game, though he was driven to win. Rather he seemed to understand the lifelong role he would play in shaping the lives of students, who also happened to be athletes.

Our President Emeritus, Ken Weller, also inspires me as I consider the importance of my role and responsibility in supporting our student-athletes and coaches. Ken’s national leadership in the development of the NCAA Division III Philosophy Statement continues to be referenced as an enormous contribution to the well-being of this division and its steadfast commitment to a set of values passed down from generation to generation. In Division III, athletics exist for the benefit of the participant, not the spectator. And, in this educational environment, importance is placed on learning, teamwork, sportsmanship and character.

These two shining examples of leadership in the NCAA remind us what matters most – the role intercollegiate athletics can play in strengthening an academic community.  There are great benefits. History tells us that colleges and universities were first brought together in a spirit of cooperation around athletics to ensure that our educational ideals were upheld. Many opportunities for academic collaboration have followed. Institutions of higher education have also experienced a sense of unity and an expression of school spirit that has been a very healthy and enjoyable byproduct of our intercollegiate athletic programs. The experiential learning opportunities available to our athletes provide a means for developing a sense of interdependence as a team, self-motivation as a competitor, and resilience as failure only leads to greater success.

It’s time we call our society back from the celebration of winning at the cost of our values. Division III has the formula. Let’s spread the word.

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13 responses to “Making Choices Consistent With Our Values”

  1. James M Walkden says:

    It’s all about who you are as a person. Are you giving, helpful, accepting, caring, respectful and fair?

    Or not?

    It doesn’t matter if its in sports, with friends, at work, in business or with your worst enemy – its still who YOU are.

    We see the same sort of behavior in all areas of life. Greed is rampant, disrespect of others because of race, sex, financial status, political decisions based on money and not what’s really best, selfishness when you have plenty. Its all the same behavior – BAD behavior.

    To not buy into that kind of thinking takes true courage and strength. There’s so much of it the lines can get blurred too. Have to survive, must do what it takes! Self justification comes easy when you fought so hard to make the grade. Its even taught to use every advantage you can to ‘win’ for most anything. Take a pill when your sick, why not when your working out? Drink an energy drink when your tired, why not ‘enhance’ your strength too?

    But we all know when it’s wrong and only you can choose your face. Life can be about what the world wants to make it or it can be about what you want to make it. The choice is yours. What’s your faith?



    • li shumin says:

      I agree with your generalization of this behavior in almost all situations of life. Where there is a competition, there is such bad behavior. Just like good comes from and lives with bad, honesty and courage are always kept by some players no matter what cost they have to pay. Sometimes, not to choose is also a choice. This is the choice to test the conscience and judgement of the people who choose.

  2. Anne Petrie says:

    I need no convincing of the merits of Division III athletics. In fact, I used to think Division I athletics was a morally bankrupt system that should be abolished in favor of a farm system (like baseball’s) for all sports.

    There was an article in Time magazine last year that caused me to reassess that opinion. It was “Struck Out by Beisbol” by Sean Gregory (Time, 7/26/10). It describes the situation in the Dominican Republic, where desperately poor families place all their hopes for financial salvation on producing the next major-league star.

    It made me think: granted that some D-I college athletes may have no interest in being anything but an athlete, are universities doing something of value by forcing them to be students, to achieve a certain number of credits and grade point average, so that when their college eligibility’s up, the vast majority who will not play professionally have at least most of a college degree?

    Interested in others’ thoughts….

    • Don Huffman says:

      As a participant in athletics at the midcentury mark of the 20th century, I have often been amazed when I compare the athletic programs then, under either NCAA or NAIA (and it’s precursors)and the current collegiate programs.
      For example, at that time, my college was the only school to admit black students in the 4-state area of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. And, blacks were “permitted” to participate only in track -which was classified as a “non-contact” sport. I could cite many other unfair and derogatory attitudes that existed then and now, but the point is, changes from these shameful aspects of collegiate athletics required a national recognition and legislation which led to many improvements. Considering that the NCAA had existed for nearly half a century, why were there so few improvements in behaviors of a negative sort in collegiate athletics, both institutional and individual?
      My conclusion is that positive standards require personal commitments from those responsible for athletic programs at any level of competition.
      And, Mark, you are absolutely correct in recognizing and citing of both Ron Schipper and Ken Weller as leaders in this area, not just at Central, and not only in NCAA DivIII, but at regional and even national levels.
      This underscores the importance of hiring and rewarding coaches and administrators who insist on the necessity of employing their personal convictions in all aspects of collegiate athletic programs.
      Ann, you are right that athletics even when not carefully monitored, may lead to positive results such as those you cite from the Domican Republic, but without committed supervision such results are more often than not negative rather than positive.

  3. katie says:

    @anne: I have worked within the D-I athletic system and also done some in-depth reading and research on college athletics. Sadly, many student athletes, particularly males in “revenue producing” sports, who pursue a college athletic career do not eventually graduate. Though just my viewpoint, I do not believe universities are doing something of value for these athletes. Universities often recruit talented athletes who are grossly unprepared for a university environment. The NCAA eligibility system is very easy to manipulate, and prospective athletes often do not have to meet the regular admission standards of the universities. These students are brought to campus and expected to be able to compete and contribute in the classroom with other well-prepared students. Though they have many resources available to them, it is still very difficult for them to be successful because of the great deficiencies with which they enter the institution. In the end, athletes often leave the university system without a degree or a professional sports contract. I believe that the NCAA and its requirements and policies exploit student-athletes. The “free education” obtained by student-athletes is a very miniscule amount compared to the billions of dollars raked in by media outlets and major corporations related to college athletics, especially considering that a degree is not necessarily guaranteed. Simply look at the recent shake-up with major D-I conferences, none of those moves are to the benefit of student-athletes, but simply serve to generate more money for the parties involved. I do believe a major overhaul of the Division I system is needed, bringing the focus back to student-athletes, their well-being, and healthy competition. Unfortunately, due to the emphasis on growing profits, I do not believe this will happen in the near future. Division III has the right idea. I just hope it is not a set of values that is becoming pushed aside due to the focus on professional and big-time college sports.

  4. Mary Delaney says:

    I liked this so well that I sent the link to the Director of athletics at the University of Iowa. I worked there for 28 years and became increasingly embarrassed by the moral quality of the athletes/criminals. They only recruited for ability. The last two years have been a turn-around and they are fielding some fine young men. They are doing a good job too. I hope the trend continues, so the department learns they can win with good men as well as trash.

  5. Good discussion… This reminds me of one of the most memorable educational sessions ever from my own days at Central many years ago. In English class we studied Henry Steele Commager’s essay “Give the Game Back to the Students” (I think originally published in the New York Times.) It was an example of superb writing skills and served that purpose well. But in the context here, I recall the passionate and convincing plea to let non-professional sports proceed for the health and social enjoyment of the students themselves. Indeed, I also hope that we will see broad and consistent support emerge for realigning the implied goal from “win at all costs” to what is described in “Making Choices Consistent With Our Values”.

  6. I picked this up from Donald Kaul the other day and it sums up my feelings:

    Robert Maynard Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago at the time, said essentially the same thing in fewer words when he had his school drop football in 1939.

    “Football,” he explained, “has the same relation to education that bullfighting has to agriculture.”

    Read more:

  7. Jeff Kisner, '77 says:

    I teach at a DIII college, Waynesburg University, in SW PA. As I did @ CUI for one monumental year, 1974, I have been helping with the football program here for @ 10 years. Tonight, I have the pleasure to lead team chapel. Indeed, we have gospel to share. I’ll make homiletical mention of your contribution, Mark. Thanks!

  8. I wave my Central flag, post my Central yard sign, and review the conference football stats every sunday morning.

    However, I do these seemingly sports related actions not because I am a die-hard sports fan but I do so because I am annoucing my pride for a school who takes the idea of students seriously…that some of them happen to be athletes is like sprinkles on a cupcake. The cupcake is great, but sprinkles are nice, too.

    I teach at a community college where I boast that many of my athletically inclined classmates where GE All-Americans or earned other conference recognition. When I share that information, many students balk–as if it’s not possible to be a good student and play sports. That is a standard by which I judge the athletes I teach–because I know it’s possible; and my fellow colleagues who coach seem to respect my approach.

    What is unfortunate is all my students see is the fame and notoriaty in the D1 game not the learning and the commaradery. Too bad…those are life lessons anyone, athlete or not, can share and use for a lifetime.

    Go Central–Go Division III–show them how it’s supposed to done!

  9. Central Student says:

    And yet, even Division III school are not entirely devoid of the favoritism commonly shown towards prospective student athletes.

    The infatuation today’s society has with sports is pervasive throughout all leves of higher education. Granted, the problem is far more serious in Division I schools, but the fact remains that Division III schools also show a bias towards prospective student-athletes. Students gifted in athletics are routinely given precedence over students applying to a college simply on a scholastic basis, especially in the area of scholarships and financial aid. These student-athletes are frequently given scholarships and aid awards they did not even apply for, simply to “sweeten their package” and make the college or university’s offering seem more desirable. For these ‘student’ athletes who choose their college for sports-related reasons, the dominant factor in their decision is often the money.

    So while Division III schools profess to dole out scholarships solely on an academic, not athletic, basis, the reality is that many Division II schools still find ways to ‘recruit’ skilled athletes. And this often comes at the cost of those students applying to a college simply for its academics.

    When I applied to Central College as a high school senior, I thought I had quite the resume – 34 ACT, 4.0 GPA, played multiple high school sports, was a member of the band and National Honor Society, and did all of this while holding a part time job. Needless to say, I expected all my years of hard work would pay off. Sadly, the financial aid award I received was far less than what I had been hoping for. Yet I still made Central my choice, because my parents told me to choose the school that felt right, not the one that was the least expensive.

    What struck me as odd was the fact that many of the new friends I met at Central had received more financial aid than I had, often in the form of scholarships they had not applied for, but had simply received. They had nowhere hear the credentials I had put together in high school, but they did have one thing I did not – they were playing an intercollegiate sport at Central.

    Let me be clear – I love the choice I made and I love Central College. I simply wish to illustrate the point that even in Division III schools, the bias of student athletes over students does exist. That is the way our society as a whole is oriented. I just find it sad that that is the way our system of higher education operates too.

    • Don Huffman says:

      You have put your finger on a factor which is frequently alleged, but is nearly impossible to prove. To have a flawless,fair financial aid system for any potential student, not only for athletes and other skills areas as well,is very difficult to achieve.
      Comparing financial aid packages is a bit like comparing income levels, car purchase prices, levels of taxation and many other things in our society. One hopes these things will be unbiased and fair but they never are completely so.
      I sincerely doubt that there is an intentional bias favoring financial aid for athletes at Central, but I suspect one could find some situations where it is the case, as in your situation. There are in fact many factors involved which complicate the determination of the final level of financial aid granted to an prospective student, and that has been the case for at least the last 50 years at Central that I am aware of.
      Having served on the Admissions Committee for several years at Central, I cannot remember ever having observed a case of bias f;or financial aid favoring athletes, specific majors, musicians, etc. even though I know there were sometimes differences in the final amount of the financial aid packages offered to prospective students.
      If such favoritism were intentional and evident, it would be grounds for censure by NCAA and for all faculty members who care about fair treatment of students.
      We have been fortunate to have as nearly an unbiased financial aid program as I know of, and I have seen several other institutions where I suspect this may not be true. Even so, I share with you the hope that favoritism will not be shown in Div. III schools, and especially at Central.

  10. Ed Ver Hoef says:

    When I was at Central (’50 – ’54), I had to work very hard to meet all the expenses. At one point I held down three part-time jobs to meet expenses. One of those jobs was with Central but not sport-related. My only sport was track but I didn’t have time to participate due to the requirements of my jobs. I do not think scholarships should be given to anyone who has the financial ability meet his own expenses. I guess I’m unrealistic but I think scholarships should be reserved for those who are truly scholars who are financially needy, whether or not they are great athletes. I can’t help but believe that sports scholarships are given PURELY to produce great teams which, in turn, attracts more students – a fine goal, but at what cost? Are such ethics what the college wants to demonstrate?