With senior cornerback Bobby Fulmore taking the field this past Saturday, three of the seven football players declared ineligible Aug. 29 are now back on the field, having won appeals to the NCAA.
For the three student-athletes, plus a fourth who was not among the last-minute ineligibilities, a period of frustration and feelings of helplessness has passed. And, taken as an isolated incident, seven football players being declared ineligible four days before the start of the season was acknowledged as an unfortunate scenario by both the Temple athletic administration and the affected players.
Considered in the context of the football team’s horrid recent history and the university’s attempts to heighten its academic reputation, however, the issue raised broader questions regarding the institution and college athletics as a whole.
When senior JC Braker spoke about the situation in September, his prospects for playing looked bleak. His motivation for airing his opinions, he said then, dealt with a belief that, if the office of Student Services and Compliance did not shore up some areas, incidents like his could reoccur.
Director of athletics Bill Bradshaw admitted that for an extended period last year, the department did not have a director of compliance.
“They need to tighten up whatever it is they do, or it’s not just going to happen to us,” Braker said of the compliance office. “It’s going to happen to the freshmen. They’re going to have to be sophomores eventually. They’re going to have to have a certain amount of credits done toward their majors, then they’re going to be juniors and it’ll be even harder on them.
“So I just think everybody that comes here, they’ve got to buckle down for their self. They’ve got to look out for their own mistakes and not let anybody make [mistakes] for them. If they sit around and expect everything to be done for them, they’re going to end up like me.”
Braker was reinstated Oct. 7 and saw action Saturday against Miami.
Most athletes learn their lesson too late, said Peter Adler, a sociologist at the University of Denver and co-author of Backboards and Blackboards: College Athletes and Role Engulfment. The contrite words of Braker are common from student-athletes after the fact, Adler said in a phone interview.
Though student-athletes get a crash-course in academic regulations once something goes wrong, he said, many spend their college careers having their course schedules and study times mapped out by academic advisers or even assistant coaches.
“What I gather from speaking to students from my own institution is that they are still not trusted to lead their own academic directions,” Adler said.
Coddling student-athletes is not exclusive to Temple, Adler emphasized, and noted the equation has served quite a few major programs well on the field of play. In the wake of an 0-7 record and nationally-recognized futility, Adler wondered if the on-field struggles and academic issues could prove problematic as the university ups enrollment requirements and tries to become more prominent nationally.
“I think the people in charge there need to take a long, hard, close look at football at the institution and what it is doing in terms of [the university’s] reputation and whether it’s the best route to take,” Adler said.
In an e-mail response to a question, President David Adamany said he doubted athletic success had any impact on academic reputation, but he said any impact on the university’s overall reputation in the arena of public opinion was hard to gauge, since he knew of no definitive studies on the topic.
“Bottom line: Most people are quite intelligent when it comes to making decisions about such important things as where to go to college or where there is academic excellence,” Adamany wrote.
Since last year, when the Owls began their farewell tour of the Big East Conference knowing 2004 would be their last season of affiliation, players have resigned to the fact that off-field issues will never cease at Temple.
A winless record, no conference affiliation and a problematic situation involving compliance were therefore almost predictable, Braker said.
“It’s like [Temple football] is cursed,” Braker said. “I play football. I’m not used to losing. I see we’ve got athletes here, but things like the academic stuff put everything back every year.”
Adler, who has studied what he calls “Sociology of Sport” for over 20 years, said he has overall been disappointed with the NCAA’s development since he began his research in the 1980s.
Many of the NCAA’s changes were “band-aids,” he said, “designed to maintain the NCAA’s billion-dollar control over institutions.”
“There have been changes, some good ones, but I don’t think the structure itself has changed dramatically,” Adler said. “What I see and read about is basically the same. The system has not changed as much as I’d hoped, but I would not have predicted it would.”
Ben Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.