Reform school: Holland takes on the NCAA

Published April 15, 2004, in issue #0315 of the HookTerry Holland is a fighter. Four seasons on the Davidson basketball team, 21 years as a head coach, and six years as UVA's athletic director will do that. But last January, when Holland, 62, started picking a fight with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), his de facto fraternity for the past 44 years, many might have wondered what he was thinking.

"The NCAA has failed our outstanding athletes, their coaches, athletic administrators," he wrote in a blunt letter to league president Myles Brand. "There are an increasing number of irresponsible and outrageous incidents on the part of athletes, coaches, and even our college professors."

Now special assistant to president John Casteen, Holland may have earned his right to complain. In 1980, he invigorated UVA's basketball program with a certain 7'4" recruit who, under Holland's mentorship, held off professional offers for three years.

The Ralph Sampson era ended with his graduation in 1983, but UVA athletes continue to stick around to claim their sheepskin. The school's scholarship athletes maintain an 82 percent graduation rate, well above the Division I average of 60 percent, according to the athletic department's 2003 annual report. In addition, nearly 100 UVA athletes made the university-wide dean's list last spring.

"Over 95 percent of athletic stories are positive," says Holland now, nearly three months after his letter hit Brand's desk. But without reform, Holland sees bad news for other colleges.

"Without substantive reform," says Holland, "the number of highly motivated students among our athletes will rapidly decline."

How do you clean up a system as sprawling and entrenched as the NCAA? Start at the top, Holland says. "Reform can be accomplished over time by simply sending a clear message about our real priorities."

For starters, he thinks schools should show that attending class is more important than attending an athletic event. Moreover, schools should be rewarded for recruiting students who fit their school's typical academic profile.

Dr. Linda Bensel-Meyers, ridiculed for accusing several football players of academic fraud while she was at the University of Tennessee, knows the rocky relationship between academics and athletics.

"I greatly admire Terry Holland for coming to our aid," says Bensel-Meyers, now an associate professor of English at the University of Denver. She calls Holland "one of the most articulate, knowledgeable, and experienced speakers on this issue.

"The system," says Bensel-Myers, "is so insidious that it makes faculty who attempt to do their jobs conscientiously into scapegoats so the commercial interests can prevail over the educational mission."

Holland sees cause for optimism. "We have a huge number of highly motivated students. However, I also believe that national schedules requiring huge amounts of missed class time will continue to erode the efforts of these students to remain intellectually motivated."

As he said in his letter, "Reform will not result from attempts to punish individuals or institutions. It can be accomplished only by changing the 'marching orders.' "

Terry Holland


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