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Protecting Athletes: Has Higher Education Lost Its Mind?

Protecting Athletes: Has Higher Education Lost Its Mind?

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As a parent of Division I athletes, I found the points in the Forbes article “Has Higher Education Lost Its Mind?” written by Donna Lopiano and Andrew Zimbalist to be more than interesting. The authors opened their article with news about the suspension of voluntary summer workouts at the University of Houston, when six players tested positive for COVID-19 less than two weeks after their return to campus.

“Who’s looking out for the athletes?” is the repeated refrain of the article when the authors write about required testing, quarantines, and retesting, even as there are no rules requiring face masks or limiting forceful exhales during lifting in the weight room. While these health issues relate to the athletes and their practices, the authors also maintain that allowing crowds of 40,000 (versus 100,000) denies the reality that a vaccine does not exist and social distancing requires more than the elimination of every other seat at huge spectator events.

While my children compete in the low-attendance Olympic sports, their team uses the same training facilities as the other athletes. Because of class scheduling, the facilities are often crowded at peak workout hours.

Due to the demands on their schedules, college athletes generally live in dorms or off-campus apartments with other athletes. They frequently socialize with other athletes, and it’s not unusual to have a large gathering of athletes at an off-campus house, apartment or bar that provides athletes with a side door access and no cover charge.

But will they wear masks and maintain a social distance? Given the stress of competing at the highest level of amateur competition and completing a full-time academic course load, I doubt that social distancing and masks will rank high in their priorities.

The authors ask if “the tail is wagging the dog?” Does the financial exigency of college sports trump the health of college athletes? Will alumni stop giving if there is no football or basketball next season? All of these are good questions, but the most important question was saved for last: “When did athletic entertainment become the overarching purpose of higher education?”

The answer to that question bifurcates among institutions based on size. For Division I schools with large football and basketball programs, the television contracts and game attendance revenues support a substantial number of non-revenue sports in the institution’s athletic programs. While smaller institutions may not have substantial attendance revenues, team sports are used in many cases as a recruiting and enrollment incentive.

Not having sports could set back 2020 fall enrollments. In any case, I would be willing to wager that institutions will consider the ramifications to the fall sports schedules before closing campus operations.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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