March 27, 2001, - 1:23 am

The Real “March Madness”

By Debbie Schlussel

It’s “March Madness,” the NCAA’s college basketball championship play-offs. But the real madness is off the court.

Shane Battier, the Duke forward and future NBA star, was selected Naismith College Player of the Year. An academic standout without a criminal record, Battier is rare. He plays trumpet, and “I might go home and listen to Beethoven and ponder Descartes,” he claims. Most college basketball players aren’t anything like Battier. Neither are most of their coaches. Or professors.

In Lubbock, former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight was named head coach of Texas Tech. But not before being attacked by Tech faculty members, who signed their names to a petition opposing Knight, claiming he’d “cast a shadow on the school.” Professors, like Walter Schaller, posted “No No Knight” signs on office doors, according to The New York Times. In a move unprecedented for a prospective college coach, Tech’s Faculty Senate demanded that Knight attend an inquisition at its March 21 meeting.
How precious. Unlike most college sports coaches, Knight instills discipline in his players. And he’s paying for it, every step of the way. Not only did Indiana fire him, but Tech’s high and mighty faculty opposes him, too. While Knight might’ve been slightly overly exuberant in discipline methods at Indiana, it’s important that he did, indeed, discipline his players — something that happens far too infrequently in college sports, today. Knight’s athletes never committed crimes. The one — just one — who did, Sherron Wilkerson, accused of beating his girlfriend, was immediately off the team. And virtually all of Knight’s athletes graduated — rare in big-time college sports.

On the other hand, there are coaches, like Tom Osborne, now a Republican Congressman, who allowed criminal after criminal on his University of Nebraska football team. His athletes almost literally got away with murder — or at least, attempted murder. But, unduly revered as some sort of deity by Nebraskans and Nebraska’s faculty, as well as the local press, you’d never hear an unkind word about him. And if you did — as I found out last year — the author (in this case, me) would be attacked with hate mail from Osborne’s blind followers. There were never any anti-Osborne petitions from Nebraska’s faculty.

Maybe because they were impressed by his Ph.D. But probably because, despite claiming to be a conservative, Osborne treated the many criminal players on his team, like convicted thugs Lawrence Phillips and Christian Peter, the way Ted Kennedy liberals treat criminals — giving them chance after chance without punishment and shamelessly attacking their victims in the press.

Never any petitions against the win-at-all-costs, anti-discipline coach, Osborne, by professors. Just against Bobby Knight, who — against his own interests to win — was the exact opposite.

Nor have intellectual elitists ever signed petitions regarding student athletes, like Osborne’s, who’ve committed crimes and have been allowed to return to play on the field or court. Or student athletes who took ridiculously easy courses to graduate, yet didn’t know even the basics about anything.

That’s because many college professors buy into the liberal mentality of allowing college athletes, despite criminal proclivities, free passes through academic life because many are from the black underclass, even though most would hardly qualify to graduate high school. And academics hate conservative, disciplinarian coaches who actually believe athletes are responsible for their actions. Profs generally support that most schools and universities belong to and fund, with your taxes, the Center for Sports in Society and its national Consortium for Academics and Sports, apologists for college athletes and perpetuators of the myth that attacks on them constitute racism.

Wall Street Journal’s sports columnist Frederick C. Klein noted that, during his attendance at an academic conference on the evils of college sports, professors pontificated that athletes’ crimes and academic failings were no fault of their own — but that of their youth, bad upbringings and “the adults who manipulated them.”

Those professors who do demand even the very minimum in academic performance from college athletes are shunned.

Take University of Tennessee Professor Linda Bensel-Meyers. She analyzed transcripts of 39 Tennessee athletes, finding that some failed even phony “soft courses,” like “Jogging,” “Bowling” and “Walking,” aimed at keeping them academically eligible to play. Predictably, Tennessee and the NCAA whitewashed the university of any wrongdoing, and now, Bensel-Meyers — a Renaissance scholar, church organist, and mother of three sons — is a pariah for daring to harm Tennessee’s $44-million-a-year athletic program. She’s been threatened to the point that she no longer feels safe walking across Tennessee’s campus or working late in her office. No petitions, though — spineless Tennessee professors turned their backs on her.

Or, there’s Joseph Greer, a St. Bonaventure University sociology professor. In February, the Wall Street Journal profiled his plight. After failing a black college basketball player, Greer, a supporter of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential bid, was immediately fired and charged with racism. No petitions by professors, here, either.

And there’s University of Minnesota tutor Jan Gangelhoff, who blew the whistle on academic fraud, telling the press that she and other tutors wrote the papers of student-athletes. Instead of any athletes, professors, or athletic officials taking their deserved falls, only Gangelhoff was charged with felony fraud for doing athlete’s course work.

In a June 1999 Sports Illustrated article on Minnesota, a history professor said that when, during class, he asked student and now-NBA star shooting guard (Miami Heat) Voshon Lenard “why George Washington was considered a founding father, Lenard . . . responded, ‘George Washington . . . name sounds familiar. Can you give me a hint?’” Professors were often visited by then Minnesota basketball coach Lem Haskins, demanding leniency and injecting accusations of racism. Being spineless, they gave in.

Former Ohio State University linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, SI reported, got through college with barely passing grades in courses, like “AIDS: What Every College Student Should Know” and “Golf.” Even many of those grades were changed by weak professors. Paula DiMarco, who taught “Introduction to Computer and the Visual Arts” didn’t want to tell SI why she changed Katzenmoyer’s E to a C-plus. “This is uncomfortable,” she said.

No kidding.

That’s a lot of unprincipled faculty members. And it’s likely similar at Texas Tech. But, still, the only faculty petition and demands made are against the only big-time coach who doesn’t engage in this kind of stuff, who doesn’t protect criminally-prone and academically inept athletes — Bobby Knight.

In 1999, Richmond, Calif., high-school basketball coach, Ken Carter, canceled practices and games and locked the gym until his students did better academically, which they did. Maybe Texas Tech’s profs will sign a petition against him, too.

But Knight has the last laugh. Despite elitist professors’ protests, he was hired. Now they will have to put up with Knight’s demands of crime-free and graduation-prone athletes.

The nerve of that man.

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