Friday, March 06, 2009

Sports: Does The Punishment Fit The Crime?

A bill submitted by a Duplin County Democrat would bar failing schools from participating in interscholastic sports. While the role of athletics and other extracurriculars may be debateable -- the John Locke Foundation's Karen Palasek has addressed this before)-- the cost or appropriateness of high school athletics is not in question. Neither is it alleged that athletic interests have overwhelmed the school's attention to basic literacy. Sports are simply being used as a carrot-and-stick incentive to encourage the school, at whatever level, to move forward on their responsibility to give and receive a basic education.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association governs participation in public high school sports. They already have scholastic eligibility requirements -- basically, that a student have passing grades in a full-time academic load -- that apply to the individual students (see page five of the NCHSSA handbook). The proposed rule would take the focus off individual eligibility and place the burden on the entire student body, a situation that simply can't be addressed by the student who is already keeping his grades up and his eligibility safe to play basketball, tennis, or whatever.

And that is the problem I see with the present bill: the penalty is too broad. Successful student athletes are denied the opportunity to compete because of the academic failures of even non-athletes in their schools. Perhaps the intent is to penalize the school, seeing the failure as a systemic problem rather than a collection of individual problems. That might be effective at the collegiate level, where student recruitment and donor support often respond favorably to the
college sports program. I think the only effect it would have at the secondary level, where recruitment is positively forbidden (see page four of the NCHSAA rules) and student apathy is a regular complaint anyway, would be to anger students and parents who feel unjustly excluded from a major extracurricular activity.

If you accept that high school sports are just an expected part of high school culture -- and another bill, opening public school sports to students which are not currently eligible, underscores that expectation exists -- then they deserve to be handled fairly and objectively as possible. And if you are going to upset a large number of parents in the best of intentions, it seems there are more effective things to spend political capital upon.


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