Everyone Should Know the Brutal Truth About College Sports:
Reflections by the Recipient of The Drake Group’s 2006 Hutchins Award
“They all cheat” claimed University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins back in 1939 when terminating the school’s Big-10 football program. Everyone knows, or at least should know, that all schools cheat in some way or another, some better than others, and that deceit, deception, and exploitation are part and parcel of today’s college-sports programs.
By Frank G. Splitt. October 19, 2019
Harper Lee had become transfixed by a scandal—a story rife with corruption, bias, rivalry, peculiarities
of state politics, moral quandaries and a healthy dose of the absurd. This was the essence of college football captured in one neat letter.—Ben Cohen, The Wall Street Jounal1:
Introduction– The following remarks represent old news that could very well be new news even for members of The Drake Group that is working to defend academic integrity in higher education and to many others as well. The remarks illuminate lessons to be learned about the world of college sports via a seemingly unrelated story about the first and only McCormick Faculty Fellows at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.
Background – October 5, 2019 marks the 14th anniversary of the publication of my letter, “Who Wants to Tackle Biggest Man on Campus?”2 In a way, the letter captured the essence of the world of college football in 2005 as Ben Cohen said of Harper Lee’s August 1963 letter in the epigraph as well as in sportswriter Skip Rozin’s September 15, 2005 column, “The Brutal Truth About College Sports”3 that concluded with the following paragraph:
Maybe it’s time, suggests Drake Group Director David Ridpath, that the athletes themselves take control. How would it be at the start of the Orange Bowl if all the players refused to take the field? asks Mr. Ridpath, speaking with the heart of a reformer. They’re saying: ‘We’re not getting an education and we’re not getting taken care of. We’re being exploited and we’re not going to play.’ A fantasy as interesting as it is unlikely, but it illustrates the frustration of those struggling to save college sports. Are they alone, or is the American public finally ready to listen?
Responding to Rozin’s column were the Sept. 24, 2005, Letters to the Editor of the Journal titled “Can Colleges Control the NCAA Beast?”4 Legendary professor and former provost at Tuffs University, Sol Gittleman’s lead letter set the tone for others that were also hypercritical of the NCAA.
All of the above Journal comments inspired the writing of my letter that was apparently read with chagrin by NCAA officials in Indianapolis. Officials at Northwestern University, especially those at its Office of Media Relations in Evanston were really upset as well—prompting the need for swift tactical action. Ideally, this action would separate their school, a member of the Big Ten,5 from the author of what these NU officials must have surely considered to be a letter that disparaged the NCAA. As a member, the NCAA served as their money-making enabler.
The NU Statement – The tactic employed by NU’s Office of Media Relations was to contrive a statement that not only aimed to put the legitimacy of the title McCormick Faculty Fellow in question, but also to demean its origin, to leave the impression that the title was not really official, and most important, disassociate the school from the author. And so it was by virtue of the following NU statement was provided by NU’s Director of Media Relations, to the editor of College Athletics Clips:7
The title “Faculty Fellow” was held uniquely at Northwestern by Splitt. No one else in the entire University is so labeled. Though the title implied a kind of faculty status, “Faculty Fellow” was not an established faculty rank or position; and appointment as “Faculty Fellow” did not include review as is customary when academic appointments are made. The title was created and assigned to Splitt by a former dean of Engineering, without consultation with the Provost. The engineering school has been informed that the rank/position “Faculty Fellow” does not exist at the University and that individuals should not so identify themselves.
Unpacking the NU Statement – The NU statement was obviously contrived as it made absolutely no sense to anyone familiar with the McCormick Faculty Fellow designation.
Here’s the story:
In the early 1990s, the late Jerry Cohen, then dean of the McCormick School, worked with Arnold R. Weber, then president of Northwestern University, to establish a new designation to honor industry leaders who were working closely with McCormick to improve ties with industry and to have them advise the school on the development of research and educational programs.
As announced in the fall-1993 issue of the McCormick Dimension, Walter B. Herbst was named as the first McCormick Faculty Fellow in Industrial Design and I was named as the first McCormick Faculty Fellow in Telecommunications. So the McCormick Faculty Fellow title was certainly not uniquely held by me.
Clearly the “Faculty Fellow” designation was created as an honorary title, not as a faculty rank/position requiring review or consultation with the Provost when academic appointments are made. The honorary title was somewhat akin to an award. Dr. Herbst and I both used the title for twelve years before the NU statement was issued.
Sad to say, there was an attempt to have Dr. Herbst voluntarily relinquish the use of the title so as to support the false claims made in the NU statement’s first two sentences. To wit: “The title “Faculty Fellow” was held uniquely at Northwestern by Splitt. No one else in the entire University is so labeled.”
The above cover-up effort was apparently orchestrated by the Office of Media Relations that used the Office of the Provost to inform the Dean of the McCormick School “that the rank/position “Faculty Fellow” does not exist at the University and that individuals should not so identify themselves.” What else was the newly appointed dean to do other than comply with directions stemming from the NU statement that now came from the Office of the Provost, the university’s chief academic officer?
The congratulatory email that I received from President Weber upon being named a McCormick Faculty Fellow provided unquestionable evidence that the title was created by Dean Cohen with the approval of the university president. The email conveniently went missing from the McCormick Faculty Fellow file at the McCormick School prior to the issuance of the NU statement.
Appeals to Reconsider – Over the years, I came to understand that appeals to reconsider the action stemming from the NU statement were made at the time the NU statement was issued and even sometime thereafter. These appeals, made to responsible NU officials by prominent faculty members as well a prominent trustee and the executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, were all to no avail—a salient example of the type of behavior that illuminates the stranglehold-like power that the NCAA exerts over officials at its member schools.
The 2006 Hutchins Award and Related Events – On January 31, 2006, The Drake Group announced via a press release that I was named to be the recipient of The Drake Group’s 2006 Robert Maynard Hutchins Award.7 The Award is “given annually to faculty or staff members who take a courageous stand to defend academic integrity at their institutions in response to institutional pressure related to special treatment of athletes, often risking job security in doing so.”8 The Award’s citation read “For His Courageous Defense of Academic Integrity in Collegiate Athletics.”
Radio interviews by Paul Finebaum and Bob Gilbert soon followed the Drake Group’s press release. Appearances on these radio programs provided opportunities to tell the brutal truth about college sports.
The Beta Tau Chapter of the Eta Kappa Nu engineering honor society, at the McCormick School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, named me as a Notable Alumni at year-end 2005.
At the recommendation of Jim Duderstadt, President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, I received an invitation from the president of The University of Montana and the president of Montana State University to contribute a paper that would appear opposite that of NCAA President Myles Brand in an upcoming issue of The Montana Professor. My paper, was titled “The U.S. Congress: New Hope for Constructive Engagement with the NCAA and Intercollegiate Athletics.”9 Copies of the Spring-2007 issue of The Montana Professor received widespread distribution in the U. S Congress thanks to Montana Senator Max Baucus.
In 2016, some ten years after receiving the Hutchins Award, it was certainly gratifying to see the bio-like commentary “A Decade of Reform Efforts in College Sports Can Largely be Traced to One Man’s Passion,” posted on Forbes.com by David Ridpath, the president of The Drake Group.11 It is my understanding that it was Ridpath who nominated me for the Hutchins Award and posted his Forbes’ piece as a way of commemorating my 85th birthday.
Lessons Learned – It is all a matter of knowing that:
1) Officials at colleges and universities that support big -time sports programs have taken their own lesson from the bank robber Willie Sutton; they too know where the money is and woe be to those who attempt to keep them from it by exposing what amounts to a money-making racket based on deceit, deception, and the exploitation of the names, images, and likeness’ of their school’s so-called student-athletes who may not be students at all.
2) Officials at even world-class universities can misbehave under the corruptive influence of the NCAA that exerts a stranglehold-like power over the officials at its member schools.
3) There is a good reason why it is so difficult to recruit even tenured faculty to join in the fight for academic integrity at NCAA member schools, especially those included in the Bowl Championship Series where really big money is involved.
4) Officials at schools supporting big-time sports programs not only have the power to terminate untenured faculty, but also the inclination to do so if the faculty person jeopardizes the viability of its sports programs in any way whatsoever.
Everyone should know the brutal truth about college sports. To learn more, see Branch12 and Ericson.13
- Cohen, Ben, “Harper Lee Also Wrote About Alabama Football, The Wall Street Journal, Sports, Sept. 13, 2019.
- Splitt, Frank G., “Who Wants to Tackle Biggest Man on Campus?” The Wall Street Journal Letters to the editor, A21, Oct. 5, 2005. An excerpt is appended.
- Rozin, Skip, “The Brutal Truth About College Sports” The Wall Street Journal, Leisure & Arts, Sept. 17, 2005 (print edition), https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB112673590440041002
- Gittleman, Sol, et al, “Can Colleges Control the NCAA Beast?” The Wall Street Journal,
Letters to the Editor, Sept. 24, 2005.
- Solberg, Winton, U., Creating the Big Ten: Courage, Corruption, and Commercialization, University of Illinois Press, March 2018.
- Kalman-Lamb, Nathan, “Sleep Pods, Plush Carpets, and the Dark Heart of the NCAA,” The Chronicle Review, p. B4, Sept. 6, 2019.
- Splitt, Frank G., “A Statement on Academic Retaliation” College Athletics Clips, Dec. 5. 2005,
- The Drake Group Press Release, “Former Northwestern Faculty Fellow to Receive Robert Maynard Hutchins Award.” Jan. 31, 2006.
- The Drake Group Awards, https://www.thedrakegroupeducationfund.org/2012/12/04/52/
- Splitt, Frank G., “Congress: New Hope for Constructive Engagement with the NCAA and Intercollegiate Athletics,” The Montana Professor, Spring 2007. This commentary can be accessed at http//mtprof.msun.edu/Spr2007/splitt.html
- Ridpath, B. David, “A Decade of Reform Efforts in College Sports can Largely be Traced to One Man’s Passion,” Forbes, Feb. 25, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bdavidridpath/2016/02/25/a-decade-of-reform-efforts-in-college-sports-can-largely-be-traced-to-one-mans-passion/#464c62836278
- Branch, Taylor, “The Shame of College Sports,” The Atlantic, October 2011 issue, https://www.thlu, 2015.eatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/308643/
- Ericson, Jon L., While Faculty Sleep: A Little Book About Big Corruption, Lulu Press, 2015.
Appendix – An Excerpt from the author’s October 5, 2005, letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal headlined “Who Wants to Tackle Biggest Man on Campus?”
The Sept. 24, Letters to the Editor in response to Skip Rosin’s superb Sept. 15, Leisure & Arts column, “The Brutal Truth About College Sports,” were aptly headlined, “Can Colleges Control the NCAA Beast?” The answer, plain and simple, is no. Here’s why and what the Drake Group is doing about it.
Big-time (NCAA Div I-A) university and college presidents cannot advocate true reform without risking termination – cultivated by a storm of protest about fiscal irresponsibility and assorted emotional arguments by trustees/regents, boosters, alumni, and rabid fans.
Untenured faculty are too busy getting tenure to work for reform, while tenured faculty are too busy doing research and/or just don’t want to get involved in controversial nonacademic affairs.
With the NCAA’s apparently successful co-option of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, there is no one charged with anything resembling responsibility for controlling the billion-dollar beast that has become expert at resisting true reform, exploited college athletes, provided weak rules enforcement, shown a lack of concern with regard to violence by college athletes and the connection of violence to the use of performance enhancing drugs, and shrouded its nefarious conduct in a veil of secrecy – protected by the Buckley Amendment to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. And in the midst of all this the NCAA maintains a nonprofit IRS status as an institution of higher education
Also, America’s love affair with sports, its high tolerance for misbehavior by its heroes, and really big money, has helped bring us today’s horrific mess in big-time, college sports … a mess characterized by seemingly unrestrained growth in spending with a corresponding desperate need for additional revenues.
Over the past two years, members of the Drake Group [the organization’s Web site states that its “mission … is to help faculty and staff defend academic integrity in the face of the burgeoning college sport industry”]have been working to provide the Group’s position on the above issues for easy availability to all concerned parties – especially to members of Congress where the Group is working a quid pro quo initiative on disclosure and the restoration of academic and financial integrity in our institutions of higher learning.
Frank G. Splitt
McCormick Faculty Fellow
Frank G. Splitt, a former McCormick Faculty Fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, an emeritus vice president of educational and environmental initiatives at Nortel Networks, and a member of The Drake Group, is the author of An Odyssey of Reform Initiatives, 1986-2015: From Engineering, K-12, and Higher Education to the Environment, National Information Infrastructure, and Collegiate Athletics, accessible at http://www.futurevectors.com.
Mount Prospect, Illinois