Long on losses, short on funds, BU football lets clock run out – Boston University ends its football program – includes related article on the university’s lawsuit against Internet-based term-paper mills – Brief Article
Gayle M.B. Hanson
While many universities depend on football for revenue and fundraising, Boston University has ended its pigskin program. The school plans to invest heavily in more egalitarian athletic pursuits.
When several thousand alumni from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University gathered in San Francisco on the evening before the 100th “Big Game” in their long-standing football rivalry, it was one for the record book — the Guinness Book of Records.
It wasn’t the volume of the cheers or the musical charms of the notorious Stanford band that set new heights in school spirit; rather, it was the millions of dollars raised for both schools in an auction that sponsors believe qualifies as the world’s largest. Graduates of both schools, who paid $250 to $1,000 a ticket for the privilege of attending, bid on items ranging from a week’s lodging in Paris’ fashionable 16th Arrondissement to walk-on bits in the next Robin Williams film.
But even as the shouted bids wafted out across the San Francisco Bay, another school 2,500 miles away was taking a different approach to the intricate relationship between football and finance. Boston University recently announced it was retiring the uniforms of its bottom-feeding football team, the Terriers. The university, which last year spent nearly $3 million on its football program but reaped a mere $90,000 in ticket sales, has withdrawn from National Collegiate Athletic Association gridiron competition. Instead of funding an elite group of student athletes, BU will build a multimillion-dollar athletic complex designed to suit the needs of its entire student body, which numbers 15,000.
“Sports and recreation are important components of student life and a key focus of alumni interest,” says BU Provost Dennis Berkeley. “Our new long-range plan is designed to allocate our resources so that they provide the best array of opportunities to the widest range of people in the Boston University community.”
Among the biggest benefactors of the decision will be BU women, who will see the funding for their teams boosted by $500,000 annually. In addition, the university will sponsor 23 scholarships for women athletes.
“By implementing the total plan, we can achieve a much more balanced set of sports programs for both men and women, which is consistent with the philosophy underlying Title IX,” says BU athletic director Gary Strickler, referring to the landmark legislation mandating equal access to school athletics for females. “But the overall goal of our new athletics plan is to focus on our strengths, not simply to respond to external requirements.”
If the cost of maintaining the football program made the decision a “nobrainer,” according to longtime BU athletic-department spokesman Ed Carpenter, school officials stressed that their choice wasn’t just about money.
“We play Division I-AA football,” Carpenter tells Insight. “There’s no television money No bowl money. But that’s not enough of a reason to stop playing. On the bottom line, we felt that football was no longer relevant to the BU experience. It was no longer a good fit for us.”
Other schools have hung up helmets in the past, most notably the University of Chicago which, after being a founding member of the Big Ten athletic conference, ended intercollegiate football competition in 1939.
“The University of Chicago held its first football practice on the day the university was founded in 1892,” says Larry Arbeiter, news director for the school. “We had the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger [in 1935]. Believe me, football was very important here.”
But Chicago always was more interested in academics than football and, under the direction of legendary president Robert Maynard Hutchins, the school dropped the sport in 1939.
“It was a situation where football was beginning to play an important role at many schools,” says Arbeiter. “And Chicago, a small school in the Big Ten, could no longer compete. The question we had to ask was whether we wanted to develop majors like physical education and organizational studies or whether we wanted to drop the whole thing altogether.”
In 1969, at the urging of its student body, football was reintroduced to the University of Chicago. No longer a member of the Big Ten Conference, Chicago now plays in an NCAA Division III conference — a league that permits no sports scholarships. Other members of the conference, also known as the University Athletic Association, include Johns Hopkins, Case Western Reserve and Brandeis universities.
“Certainly there are alumni here who are already working on trying to resurrect the game,” says BU’s Carpenter. “I just don’t know if it is going to happen anytime soon.”
Anytime soon won’t be soon enough for the young athletes who came to BU hoping for glorious football careers. While the university has said it will honor its financial commitment to the scholarships of its student athletes, as well as the remaining two years on the contract of coach Tom Marsella, team members are heartbroken. In their final home game of the year, players wore white uniforms lacking any university identification.
As for Carpenter, who has shepherded 20 different BU football teams through the media gauntlet, he’ll devote his time toward BU’s winning women’s field-hockey and soccer teams. “Right now I am feeling a loss. It was the relationships that really mattered. The players that would come back every year for homecoming. The bonds between the coaches and students.”
Alumni, however, have begun raising money to bring the sport back for the 1999 season, citing the example of Villanova which, like Chicago, ended and resurrected football on a less grand scale. “It would be great if it happened,” says Carpenter, “but I’m not counting on that.”
RELATED ARTICLE: BU Moves From Gridiron to Courtroom
Boston university may have left some students without a pigskin to pass, but others are still playing games: handling in a work that is not their own, a problem universities nationwide have encountered for decades.
But BU has taken action against cheats. The university recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against Internet-based term-paper mills, apparently the first legal action action against such companies operating on-line. The university is asking the court to dissolve the companies and seeks damages and legal costs.
Term-paper companies have changed their marketing methods during their years from fliers and advertisements in students newspapers to sites on the World Wide Web. Students now can order a research paper and have it personalized and ready for submission within minutes. No reading. No typing. No learning
“Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious academic offense that one can commit,” says Robert Smith, associate general counsel of Boston University. “This is a concern for academic integrity. If you’re turning in counterfeit materials to obtain a degree, then you’ve obtain your degree by fraud and it’s not fair to honest students.” It’s also not fair to potential employers and admissions officers at graduates and professionals schools.
BU has been trying to stop term-paper mills for 25 years, filing its first similar lawsuit in state court in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Massachusetts passed a statute that made it illegal to sell term papers intended to be used for credit (and also declared it illegal for students to pay surrogates to take exams).
To collect evidence for the Internet case, BU staff members posed as students and contacted several companies, making it clear they intended to pass off the term paper as their own work. Although most of the papers were marked “for research purposes only,” the companies provided finished products and some were printed with a title page that included the course and students names.
Real students who took the dishonorable route to good grades should be nervous. In the discovery phase of the lawsuit, the university will reveal the identities of those BU students who bought the ersatz papers.
“Students who get caught cheating suffer grave consequences to their academic careers,” Smith says. “It’s a tremendous embarrassment to their families. It can cause the loss of significant investment that they and their families have made in their education.”
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