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Athletics topic for Malloy

Marcela Berrios | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

University President Emeritus Father Edward Malloy flew to the University of Virginia Friday to participate in a forum on college athletics, drawing from his experiences at Notre Dame to discuss racial integration in recent decades, the academic integrity of student athletes and the roles of the news media and the federal government in shaping the future of athletic programs.

The “Intercollegiate Athletics: Their Role, their Status, their Future” discussion, hosted by the Miller Center of Public Affairs, was cybercast live and might be aired by the PBS affiliates that regularly televise the centers’ trademark forums.

Malloy said in an interview with The Observer Monday that the Miller Center studies American presidencies and public policy issues – and that its interest in intercollegiate athletics, though seemingly unrelated to the center’s field, is actually warranted.

“It was appropriate for a center focused on the American presidency and public policy to talk about intercollegiate athletics because periodically Congress, and in rare cases the White House, have intervened to institute reforms when things aren’t going in the right direction,” he said.

He offered the 1906 creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the urging of President Theodore Roosevelt as an illustration of the role the federal government has played in intercollegiate athletics in the past.

Roosevelt was concerned by the levels of violence, serious injuries and deaths related to football in a given year and threatened to ban the sport if regulations and supervision were not immediately established, Malloy said.

“If things in intercollegiate athletics don’t go well, presidents and people in Congress get interested.”

He also noted throughout his lifetime the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics in light of the gradual integration of women’s programs and racial minorities over the last decades.

A former Notre Dame basketball player, Malloy recalled there was only one African-American player in the team during his years as an undergraduate student, and no African-American coaches in any school.

“The greatest changes in my lifetime in athletics have been racial integration and the opportunities for women,” Malloy said. “And they both still need work done to be fully implemented.”

He said he accepted the center’s invitation to participate in the forum because he thought it was important to discuss these changes and the future of collegiate athletics, as they are an auxiliary unit of the university and affect the way people relate to the institution.

However, he was also driven to Virginia after he found out his friend and Chancellor of the University of Mississippi, Robert Khayat, was the other guest speaker.

“I spoke at Robert [Khayat’s] inauguration and we were on the NCAA foundation board for many years,” Malloy said. “When we each heard the other one was the second speaker we both agreed to do it.”

He said their experiences as former student athletes and leaders of their respective universities added weight to their arguments.

“When you’re an insider you don’t buy into the totally romanticized view that some people have about athletics or the utterly cynical view that other people have,” he said. “You understand the pluses and the minuses because you’ve been through it yourself.”

Some of those minuses include the scrutiny that young student athletes undergo under the lens of the rapidly proliferating sports media, Malloy said.

In recent years, specialty magazines and publications, T.V. stations and the Internet’s chat rooms, blogs and Web sites have tracked student athletes and made them household names.

“This is a huge change in the reality of intercollegiate athletics because when student athletes come to Notre Dame, if you read all these materials, you know so much about them before they set a foot on the campus,” he said. “Or when an athlete gets into trouble it’s instantaneously news around the country. That just never existed before.”

When asked for his opinion regarding the proper disciplinary treatment given to student athletes in the spotlight, Malloy only said that athletes should be subjected to the same rules and yardsticks as non-athletes.

He declined to comment on the recent controversy surrounding former Irish point guard Kyle McAlarney, saying he spoke at the forum about intercollegiate athletics in general and didn’t address specific Notre Dame issues.

McAlarney’s suspension following his arrest in December for possession of marijuana was considered excessive by some critics – a result, they said, that was directly related to the basketball player’s celebrity.

However, disciplinary issues are not the only ones where student athletes are known to receive special considerations – to the advancement or detriment of the athlete’s career.

During the forum, Malloy also raised the question of academic integrity for student athletes – a cause supported by NCAA President Myles Brand.

He said Brand’s steps to guarantee every member institution in the NCAA protects the impartiality of its athletes’ academics have echoed Notre Dame’s own decision to demand from every student – athletes and non-athletes alike – the same academic performance.

Former NCAA president and Notre Dame athletic coordinator Gene Corrigan attended the forum, among 150 Virginia student athletes, students, faculty members and outside spectators.