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
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.