SU sports symposium explores key issues

From left, University of North Florida professor E. Newton Jackson Jr., professor of sport management at Drexel University Ellen Staurowsky, College Sport Research Institute Director Richard Southall and former associate commissioner for compliance and academic affairs for the NCAA's Southeastern Conference John Gerdy served as panel members for a symposium focusing on NCAA issues at Shenandoah University on Monday evening. Brad Fauber/Daily

WINCHESTER – Fritz Polite, director of the Sport Management Program at the Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business at Shenandoah University, said following a sports symposium at the school Monday evening that he hoped students in attendance valued the unique way recent NCAA issues were delivered. According to Nader Hussein, a senior mass communications student, the symposium was a success in that regard.

“I have class with Dr. Polite … and it’s great to see some of the information that he’s been telling us in class, see it actually applied in a practical way,” Hussein said. “Dr. Polite is big on the idea of theory to practice – you can learn as much as you want but it’s not useful unless you can actually practice and execute it.”

Titled “The Rise in Commercialism and Related Human Rights Issues Within Collegiate Athletics and The Academy,” the nearly two-hour symposium, held in conjunction with Shenandoah University’s Sport Management Program, featured a four-person panel and explored interconnected issues concerning the relationship between athletics and academics across all levels of NCAA membership institutions.

The panel – which included E. Newton Jackson Jr., a professor within the Leadership, School Counseling and Sport Management unit at the University of North Florida; director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina Richard Southall; Ellen Staurowsky, an associate professor of sport management at Drexel University; and John Gerdy, former associate commissioner for compliance and academic affairs for the Southeastern Conference – offered the audience, comprised mainly of students, an in-depth look at pertinent issues outside of a classroom setting.

“It’s amazing that we can attract scholars of this quality,” said Brian Wigley, director of undergraduate programs at the Byrd School of Business and an NCAA faculty athletic representative. “I’ve known Ellen (Staurowsky) and Richard Southall for 20 years and they really are leaders in the field.”

Polite, who served as moderator for the symposium, began discussion by posing a question to Gerdy regarding the challenges associated with the intersection of academic and athletic programs of collegiate institutions. Gerdy opined that due to the current profitability and exposure generated by college athletics, the NCAA needs to “renegotiate the deal” that exists between athletes and the academic institutions they represent.

Southall expanded on that topic, saying there exists a “moral challenge” in terms of determining whether or not it’s “OK” to have a small percentage of student athletes being “economically exploited” for the benefit of the vast majority of collegiate student athletes. He also expressed the need to differentiate between the different levels of collegiate athletes, saying athletes at Shenandoah – a Division III NCAA institution – are not the same as the “profit athletes” – athletes whose “grant in aid is less valuable than that athlete’s market value” – that exist at the NCAA’s higher levels.

Staurowsky, who said she considers student athletes “employees” of their academic institutions but are not recognized as such, delved into the topic of governance, social justice, human rights and civil rights in relation to college athletics and the institution and concluded by expressing the need for a players association in college athletics.

Jackson said the NCAA is “full of hypocrisy,” adding later in his discussion that “athletics and academics do not work hand in hand, in my opinion, because they both have different missions.”

“It’s good for the students to hear this because in my class we have a very different view of the NCAA,” Wigley said. “I’m an NCAA fan. I’ve been very involved with the NCAA over the years. There’s a lot of discussion of what’s wrong with it, there’s not a lot of discussion of alternatives.

“It’s good for (students) to see that there’s a completely different perspective out there that they might not get in a classroom here,” Wigley added. ” … We do our best not to isolate them and to expose them to different things but I can’t replicate what they just did.”

The symposium closed with a Q&A session for the audience, with Jackson’s view that the NCAA needs to go back to an old rule that prohibited freshman from competing in athletics in order to help students make an easier transition to college life drawing several related questions.

The conversation also included discussion about the lack of educational promotion during college sports broadcasts, with Gerdy calling Division I athletics “the clearest, cleanest, largest window through which the public views our entire educational system.” He noted that it’s “more important than ever that we value education more than athletics,” adding that the mindset right now is the opposite and that doing so is a “recipe for disaster” in today’s culture.

Wigley said he hoped members of the audience came away with the understanding that the issues surrounding the relationship between athletics and academics was a “complex problem.”

“Smart people have been trying to figure it out and we can’t figure it out, so the kids come away with a different perspective and an understanding of how complex the problem is,” he said.

Polite said he hopes the symposium pushes students to “dig a little deeper.”

“I think 90 percent of the people in the audience were students, I would think that it would help them critically think and to critically assess or analyze the topics,” Polite said. “So not to look at them from a superficial perspective but from a deeper level, because these people are deep right here. … You can tell they are extremely articulate in being able to express their thoughts. I would hope students will be able to critically start to dig a little deeper.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com