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Memo to UA: Athletes must be students 1st

Citizen Staff Writer

The University of Oklahoma football team was on a winning streak in the early 1950s – on its way to 54 straight victories, still the national collegiate football record – when an Oklahoma legislator made note of it in a floor speech by mentioning that the university’s academics were lagging.

“We want a university that the football team can be proud of,” he is purported to have said.

We don’t know if it was tongue-in-cheek or serious, but the point we take away is that academics and athletics can mix. But academics must come first.

The University of Arizona last week lost four football scholarships because academics haven’t come first with the football team or the athletics department. The UA baseball team also has been penalized, losing 10 percent of its scholarships.

The lost scholarships were a strong message sent by the National Collegiate Athletic Association: Improve the academic performance of student-athletes.

The NCAA rejected a UA claim that several football coaching changes in rapid succession were responsible for an unusual downturn in performance.

UA officials were disappointed by the ruling, but the NCAA clearly is on the right track. In the past, the NCAA has said universities must pay attention to academic progress of athletes – but that was largely lip service with no real penalties attached.

Now, after a lengthy ramp-up process, the NCAA has shown there will be sanctions against schools in which the numbers of athletes in good academic standing and graduating do not reach benchmarks.

Most schools reached those levels. And in most sports, UA did, too. In football and baseball, UA did not.

It is important for UA officials to take this matter seriously and not make excuses. It was good to hear head football coach Mike Stoops say, “We’re going to confront it and take our penalty now and work on getting better.”

UA athletics department officials have plenty of resources at their fingertips to improve student-athlete performance – resources not readily available to the rest of the student body. Coaches keep a close eye on their players to make sure they attend classes. There are mandated study periods and personalized tutoring.

Jim Livengood, UA’s director of athletics, must take the lead in setting a tone that studies and grades come first. That must be an openly stated expectation for UA student-athletes.

UA fans, from President Peter Likins down through season-ticket holders and armchair quarterbacks, all must demand academic excellence.

Very few college athletes will play professionally. Most must use their degree, if they earn one, and their academic experiences to earn a living.

When it comes to student-athletes, the role of student must come first.

Bilingual cops

Good for the Tucson Police Department, which is diligently working to ensure that officers and other employees can communicate with the diverse population they serve.

TPD offers financial incentives for officers and civilian employees to learn Spanish and rewards certified Spanish speakers with a bump in pay.

It is important for police officers to be able to communicate with everyone in the community. TPD has the right idea to make that possible.

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