Opinion: Football shouldn’t come first

Abbi Pittman

Our Mountaineer football team has brought a lot of positive attention to the university. But I feel as if here is a growing problem with athletes behaving inappropriately, which in turn affects colleges negatively.

If you were here last year, you may remember the controversy surrounding the sexual assault charge against three former football players.

Two players were kicked off the roster for this year for violating team standards. And in 2009, two Appalachian football players were arrested in for property damage.

These controversies not only generate negative press about the university, but also put the athletics program at risk of receiving NCAA sanctions or other punishments.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with having successful athletic programs.

In fact, football has brought a lot of good to campus. The three consecutive national championships between 2005 and 2007 and the historic win over Michigan put Appalachian on the map.

Since the first national championship win, factbook.appstate.edu reports that annual applications to Appalachian have increased by over 1,500.

In addition, the football program saw a $3 million increase in annual revenue between 2006 and 2010, according to the 2011 Athletics Feasibility Study.

But there is something wrong when those involved don’t feel like they need to uphold the same standards of moral and noncriminal behavior as the rest of us.

In the past year, scandals have broken at some of the biggest names in college sports. The Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University has dominated headlines.

There was also the incident of Ohio State players trading team jerseys for tattoos and other favors, which led to a bowl ban and the downfall of Coach Jim Tressel. And more locally, it was discovered at UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball players were being signed up for bogus classes.

On July 23, as NCAA President Mark Emmert delivered the sanctions to Penn State live on ESPN, he chastised a culture that had made athletics “too big to fail, too big to even challenge.”

As the football program grows, we need to ensure that Appalachian does not go down this same road.

There are a few things that can be done to prevent this. First, a Board of Trustees oversight committee can be created to monitor the integrity of the athletics program. This was a requirement of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State. And second, we can ensure that recruited athletes are free from any violent or criminal past, so they are more likely to have the integrity we want them to have on and off the field.

The controversies at Appalachian have been comparatively small, and mainly involved players, as opposed to Penn State where the problem went all the way to the top. But it could happen here if we begin promoting a “football first” culture.

David Sabbagh, a freshman theatre arts major from Winston-Salem, is an opinion writer.