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Poll Finds Much Concern About Overemphasis and Integrity of College Sports

Associated Press

Six of 10 Americans believe that sports in college are overemphasized, and seven of 10 say that gambling on college sports encourages athletes to cheat, according to a poll taken by Media General for the Associated Press.

Respondents in the poll were asked: “Do you think the role of sports in college today is overemphasized, underemphasized, or is emphasized about right?”

Of the 1,402 adults polled, 60% said overemphasized, 2% said underemphasized, 33% said about right, and 5% were unsure.

When asked: “Do you think gambling on college sports encourages athletes to cheat, or not?” 70% said it did, 20% said it did not, and 10% were unsure.

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“I think the general tone that you’ve picked up in your survey is a concern about the integrity of athletics in general,” said Jack Davis, an agriculture professor at Oregon State University who became president of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. this year.

“This is our concern, too--whether athletics are overemphasized, whether there is too much emphasis on ‘win at all costs’ and gross cheating.”

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted shortly after Tulane University abolished its basketball program in the wake of the indictments of eight people on bribery and conspiracy charges. The eight, three of them basketball players, were charged in a scheme to shave points in three games last season.

Of those polled, 64% said that they had heard about the Tulane scandal, and 28% said that they believed Tulane officials had done the right thing in abolishing the basketball program.

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Davis said that the Tulane case and other well-publicized cases accounted for the impression that cheating is widespread.

“I personally would hazard a guess that it isn’t widespread right now,” Davis said. “I don’t think there are that many fixes in.”

He added, however: “It would be easy for an individual to affect the outcome of a basketball game without anyone knowing about it. . . . Our interest and concern is at a very high level (because) this could happen.”

The NCAA has scheduled a special convention June 20-21 at New Orleans, where it is expected to approve a series of measures aimed at dealing with cheating and other problems.

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The proposals could force schools that repeatedly violate the rules to give up football and basketball for two seasons. In addition, coaches could lose their jobs and athletes their eligibility.

To help players avoid being lured into gambling schemes, the NCAA Coaches Assn. is considering asking for monthly stipends of $50 to $100 for players. And the College Football Assn.'s coaches’ committee proposed a plan last week that would give football players $60 a month to cover incidental costs.

But the general public apparently is against payments to college athletes. In the poll, 76% of the respondents said that athletes should not be paid for competing in major college sports.

“We’re not proposing they be paid to play. We’re proposing that they be treated like every other student,” said Jack Hartman, basketball coach at Kansas State University and past president of the NCAA Coaches Assn..

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“There are many scholarships that pay a student more than an athletic scholarship. It makes it awkward in some cases when a kid has absolutely no money to buy the basic essentials such as toothpaste and deodorant.”

Because athletes must practice, they don’t have time to work for spending money, Hartman added.

Respondents were also asked about proposals to give coaches job security, much like professors get tenure. Some people believe that recruiting violations arise because coaches fear losing their jobs if their teams don’t win enough games.

Coaches should be given job security, regardless of their teams’ records, said 42% of those polled, but 46% said that colleges should have the option of firing coaches if the teams lose too many games, and 12% were unsure.

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Respondents in the poll included a random, scientific sampling of across the country taken May 1-7.

For a poll based on about 1,400 interviews, the results are subject to an error margin of three percentage points because of chance variations in the sample. That is, if one could have questioned all Americans with telephones, there is only 1 chance in 20 that the findings would vary from the results of polls such as this one by more than three percentage points.

Media General Inc., a communications company based in Richmond, Va., publishes the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader; the Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Fla., and the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina. The company’s television stations are WXFL in Tampa, WCBD in Charleston, S.C., and WJKS in Jacksonville, Fla.


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