2001 Communty Prayer Breakfast



Fields Tough

Local Q & A


by Jan Corey Arnett

Coralan Communications

Cedric Dempsey, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association had his mettle tested by a group of about 40 coaches, athletic directors, and athletes at an informal Q & A following the May 8 Community Prayer Breakfast in Battle Creek at which he and his wife, June, were speakers.

If ever an individual was challenged to prove that his personal values matched his professional actions this was such a time. The Dempseys in their Prayer Breakfast remarks spoke of the important role that faith, friendship, respect, fitness, forgiveness and other values have in their lives and in their marriage of 48 years. Coaches' and athletes' questions offered an opportunity for those values to be borne out in how Dempsey conducts his professional work with the NCAA.

As he had at the earlier Prayer Breakfast, Dempsey began by poking fun at himself, saying that as he travels the country he can, in good fun, embellish his own sports career but when he comes home, where people know him and have the records, the facts must be faced. He did, however, have an outstanding record as a member of the Albion College basketball team and was its MVP in 1954.

Dempsey responded candidly to a series of questions on policies, regulations, salaries, free agency, and other issues in college and professional sports. The session was broadcast live over local radio station WBCK.

He told the group that "if athletics is not a part of the educational process athletics do not belong in an educational setting," adding that despite the fact that athletics is "at the highest level of big business" it must be kept in perspective.

Asked about the appropriateness of prayer in sports, Dempsey believes locker room prayer is a positive but stressed the importance of showing respect for those of other faiths when one's own faith is expressed. He asked the group gathered to consider, for example, how a losing team feels when a winning team credits God for its success. "Are they embarrassing and humiliating the losing team?"

When asked about his position on players leaving college to turn pro in the NBA, he said it isn't the amount of money they suddenly come into that worries him as much as it is that they are not socially and emotionally ready. They are pressured to buy drugs and women, but lack the maturity to conduct themselves responsibly. He said it is hard to tell a young person "not to take a $3.5 million contract to leave school when they suddenly have enough money to buy the school."

Asked whether college level athletes should be given even a small amount of money he said "We could never pay them enough if they want to leave."
Dempsey praised the role of life skills programs which he developed while he was athletic director at the University of Arizona. These programs have been implemented in all Division I schools and work with athletes not just on their academic skills but require that they do community service and understand the responsibility they have because they are being seen as role models and leaders.

Talking about the big money aspects of sports he said there are institutions which are buying their way into the bowl games and that some are spending as much as $80 million a year on their sports programs. Kathy Beauregard, director of athletics at Western Michigan University, who was in the audience, said the budget for WMU's sports program is $12 million, to which Dempsey added, "Western Michigan University is a Division I school and spends $12 million a year. How can it compete fairly against an Ohio State that spends $80 million?"

It was clear throughout the Q & A that Dempsey knew his field very well, even pointing out that studies show that a ball comes off an aluminum bat at 112 miles an hour, giving a pitcher.28 seconds to react. He said aluminum bats came into being as a cheaper alternative to wood (but now cost more) but that his preference would be to return to wooden bats, even though better alloys are being created to make the metal bats more "wood-like."

Dempsey also responded to a question regarding whether Title IX, which has been in force since 1972 to bring more gender equity into sports, is working. He said progress is being made with Division II participation levels running about even and Division III "lagging behind a bit." More women than men competed in national championships in the past year.

Asked about the use of instant replays in college sports Dempsey said he tends to be against it but that it is essential to do everything "in our power to get the call right." He acknowledged that there is extreme pressure on those making the calls when millions of dollars are involved in games.

Dempsey also was honest about his inability to keep up on everything happening in the sports world, saying that he had not heard the announcement that a move was afoot to reinstate the jump ball. "With 127 different committees making decisions, I am not always the first to know what's going on." He added with a chuckle, "One thing about my job is that I get blamed for a lot more than I probably should and I get credit for a lot more than I probably should."

Concluding his remarks, Cedric Dempsey said "We're losing a lot today because we're taking away from our kids the experience of being kids and replacing it with stress, consequences, and pressure." He expressed concern that this is not the major mission of collegiate sports and that the major mission has more to do with developing and educating good people.

See the Photo Essay

for images of many of the groups and individuals mentioned above.



Photo Essay page 1


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