Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Inside Georgetown Athletics

There is an interesting article in today's Hoya about Prof. Wayne Knoll, the Faculty Athletic Representative at Georgetown. It is an excellent illustration of how things should work, but all too often do not:
For instance, he remembers 1982 very well. A young Patrick Ewing had enrolled in Knoll’s literary analysis class shortly after arriving on the Hilltop for his second semester. Ewing, according to Knoll, was shy and respectful, especially given his notoriety. He was also a dedicated student.

The day after a victory against Syracuse in February, Knoll recalls seeing Ewing standing outside his classroom. Ewing had played an integral role in the win the evening before, but at that moment he was visibly crippled by the flu.

“I told Patrick to go home!” recalls Knoll. “There was no reason for him to be in class when he was so clearly suffering.”

But Ewing wouldn’t budge.

“Dr. Knoll, I don’t want to miss class,” the budding superstar replied. “The basketball season has started now, and I’m worried I’m going to miss a lot of classes.”

Knoll was impressed with Ewing’s dedication to academics — Patrick had even turned in the paper that was due that day.

Later that season, the basketball team was in Utah for the opening round of NCAA Tournament games. Ralph Dalton, another player who was serving as the team’s academic captain that season, Ewing and three other team members were all enrolled in Knoll’s literary analysis course.

The five players gathered around to talk to Knoll. Dalton spoke first.

“Dr. Knoll,” he began, “We’ve finished all of your assignments! And we’re going to win! And we’re going all the way! So can you give us the rest of the assignments so we don’t fall behind?”

What was Knoll’s response to his intrepid student-athletes?

Chuckling, Knoll remembers, “I ended up giving them more assignments — all the way up through the National Championship.” . . .

Knoll is proud to point out that during his tenure as FAR, Georgetown has never had an academic-athletic scandal. He also cherishes the esteem that other schools have for Georgetown.

“Our Jesuit influence and motto is not just lip service, we really value the concept of a healthy mind and a healthy body,” Knoll says. . . .

Many years ago, Knoll remembers an afternoon when several members of the varsity football team came to him frustrated with the state of their program. Recent incidents involving public urination, intoxication and academic difficulties certainly signaled to Knoll that a change in the culture of the team was necessary.

Working with former Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, Knoll says he was shocked to discover that the coach’s response to the difficulties was a simple “boys will be boys” mantra.

That’s not the way we handle things here at Georgetown.

In terms of the problem players, Knoll’s directive to the coach was to “get them all out of there, off the team.” When the head coach was finally fired, Knoll played an essential role on the hiring committee as they vetted new candidates. According to Knoll, the main criterion for the new coach was not an athletic winner, but one “who understood the place of athletics on this campus as a part of Georgetown.” . . .

Its obvious that Knoll would not survive as FAR at any school with FBS football. But, then Georgetown has, in its wisdom, made the principled decision to opt out from that sewer.

It should be noted that student-athletes at Georgetown have a 91% graduation rate, only three percentage points below the overall student body. The football team boasts a graduation rate of 96%. Only the rates for the basketball teams, at 73% for the women and 60% or the men are significantly lower than those for other students. Lets hope that on-court fortunes are not the only thing that John Thompson III is able to turn around.

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