Thursday, May 15, 2008
The edumacation of the CIS
In the spring of 2006 I had a long and wide-ranging conversation with Wilfrid Laurier University athletic director Peter Baxter. Although the purpose of the interview was to gather information for an article I was writing for the St. Catharines Standard analyzing why Brock University doesn’t field a football team (short answer: money), I took the opportunity to pick Baxter’s brain on several topics of interest.
Baxter is a polarizing figure in the world of CIS sport. A few year’s earlier he was the most public face in a battle between the OUA and Canada West football conferences. The fight was about the rules that govern athletic scholarship for CIS schools. The west wanted to open things up to more closely mimic the U.S. system. Ontario favoured a more conservative approach that would see awards capped and tied into academic performance. In the midst of the battle, the OUA threatened to pull out of the CIS if the west’s calls for a wide-open approach were followed. Famously Baxter said that the OUA could pull out and form a league with different scholarship rules like the Ivy League in the U.S. In what’s become a CIS urban legend, Baxter’s words were widely twisted to suggest that he was actually comparing the academic quality of OUA schools to the Ivy League (something only a Queen’s grad would do with a straight face, right Neate?).
As you likely realize, a compromise was eventual found and the OUA remained part of the CIS football umbrella (which was great for Baxter since his Golden Hawks would go on to win a national championship a couple years after the fight). But, the damage was done. Moving forward, Baxter was to become the voice of all those calling for academic purity in CIS sport.
So naturally our conversation that day turned to that very topic. Surprisingly, considering how hard he fought against the NCAA-fication of the CIS, he suggested that there was something the Americans were doing that CIS schools could learn from. Baxter indicated that he was pushing for CIS schools to provide a full disclosure of graduation rates among student-athletes, something the NCAA had been doing for several years.
At the time, he was facing resistance. Again, it was mostly the west that were against the idea (not surprising: I once had a Canada West head coach tell me, without a hint of shame, that there was nothing wrong with giving an athletic award to a student on academic probation ).
Since then something must have changed. Last fall, CIS executive director Marg McGregor told the G&M’s David Naylor that the CIS was “…in the process of doing an actual study on graduation rates among athletes.” Indeed, it’s listed right there on page 5 of the 2007-08 CIS Strategic Plan.
However, it appears that the study is limited in looking at overall graduation rates among CIS athletes as compared to the general population. Expect a self-congratulatory press release sometime soon. It’s clear that true student-athletes are more engaged to their university experience as compared to that depressed kid from your first year dorm that never bathed and listened to Metallica at full volume every night to 4 a.m. There is little doubt that the Trent fencing team hits the books.
What’s needed is a true sport by sport, school by school breakdown. Something with teeth that has the ability to praise schools that are doing a good job and, more importantly, shame those schools that aren’t. Small sports need to be separated from the big three of basketball, hockey and football. If there are problems they will show up there.
Almost every conversation I’ve ever had with western ADs and coaches on this topic has involved me being told that there wasn’t a problem at his or her school—that they were doing a fine job of protecting the academic integrity of their institution and they didn’t need outside hands (especially eastern ones) prying into their business.
If everything is under control it shouldn’t be a problem then for a public institution to release a little data showing that, don’t ya think? Unless, of course, you’d rather not have to explain to that fullback’s parents why 60 per cent of your former players are working at Wal-Mart.