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Is It Time To Bring Back Athletic Dorms?

Ever since the NCAA mandated strict limitations on coaches having contact with players in the off season and then in 1996 outlawed athletic dorms - policing players (especially freshman) has been a nightmare.

Coaches are accountable for a hundred 18-22 year olds but can't house them in a supervised dorm or have unrestricted access to them in the off season. Yet they are held responsible for their behavior. Those rules have to be two of the biggest mistakes the NCAA has ever made.

While most college athletes are good students, the reality is, the ones that mess up get all the attention. And in the interim since athletic dorms were phased out there has been, "An alarming number of college athletes charged with serious crime." At least that's what Jeff Bennedict claimed in his Sept. 8, 2010 article for Sports Illustrated.

Bennedict is a college prof who has been investigating and writing about athletes and crime for more than 15 years. He says that arrests of college athletes in that period have more than double those of pros.

Of course those numbers were somewhat skewed by the difference in the size of the two populations. There are 119 Division 1 schools and 32 NFL teams. And there is the obvious disparity of comparing 18-20 year olds to adults.

Nevertheless, a quick use of Google seems to give credence to Bennedict's claim:

On Feb 17, 2008 University of Alabama defensive end Jeremy Elder was charged with armed robbery. In Nov, 2009 three University of Tennessee players were arrested for armed robbery. On August 4, 2010 Marshall wide receiver Michael Fleurizard was arrested for robbery and assault. In July, 2011 West Virginia Linebacker Brando Busick was charged with two armed robberies. This week former Auburn wide receiver Antonio Goodwin was the first of four former players to stand trial for a March, 2011 armed robbery.

Even TCU which claimed this past year to be the only D-1 top 25 team without a player on the roster that had been arrested; saw 4 players swept up in a major drug raid last July. And that's not to even catalogue the revolving door at the Gainesville PD from the arrest of over 40 Florida football players in the last seven years. We could go on but you get the picture.

Ostensibly the NCAA did away with Athletic Dorms in an effort to remove perceived special privileges for the athletes so they could be treated more like regular students. Instead of being housed separately with three meals a day, it was determined by the suits to mix the student athletes in with the general population.

In reality though, the original measure was pushed through by a joint effort of the PAC 10 and Big 10 Conferences. I can't understand why they wanted the change just like I can't understand why they have blocked efforts at having a playoff for a Division 1 national championship.

I can only suppose ...

they saw the athletic dorms as some type of recruiting advantage for SEC schools. But since the NCAA's off season restrictions on coaches contact with players and the outlawing of Athletic Dorms, there has been a corresponding rise in student athletes getting into serious trouble.

However, it now appears the NCAA is starting to reconsider that stance. In their Feb meeting this year, one of the issues given to a working committee for study, was the re-institution of athletic dorms with unlimited meals. It's about time too.

Now I'm not so naive as to suggest that removing those two ill advised rules would do away with athletes getting into serious trouble; but I do say it would be a significant improvement over what we have at present and just might save some players from ruining their lives.

In the current climate, it's easy to blame colleges for recruiting players that lack character. While I concede that could be a valid point. I think the problem is a far bigger one than that.

Often times there is nothing in a student's past character that should raise concerns. However, many of these athletes come from very difficult backgrounds both academically and economically. Nonetheless they are expected to succeed and grow in a college environment. In addition, they work hard and devote much of their time to training and performing which leaves little time for study or part time jobs.

Athletic dorms are places where at risk students can be eased into the new demands of college life. Additionally, if the coaches could have more contact with the students in the off season, and the players are housed together, there would be a better atmosphere for developing team camaraderie as the younger ones are mentored and influenced by the older students.

Finally, the value of the athletic dorms was driven home to me in remarks made by Bo Jackson at Auburn's Heisman Statue dedication Saturday. Bo said,

"I have people in my life that ... I respect you, I care about you, like you'll never know... Rusty and Sally Dean, (athletic) dorm counselors. On Saturday evenings, after the football games ... If I wasn't in my room Saturday night 10:30, 11:00, I'd be up at Russ and Sally's place having Sally's famous dip and chip and playing with their two dogs Woody and J.W."

What a great testament to the Deans as well as to the value of athletic dorms. Bo's testimony just shows how important athletic dorms were and could still be today.

It's past time for the NCAA to bring back athletic dorms and restore coaches access to athletes in the off season. Lets hope they make the move sooner and not later.