Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Playing by the Rules

When President Jim Barker was asked to help simplify and improve the Division I rulebook for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), he asked, "How can we make this a teachable moment?"

Barker turned to colleague Dan Wueste, professor of philosophy and director of Clemson's Rutland Institute for Ethics. They developed a one-semester Creative Inquiry class in the Department of Philosophy and Religion to engage a small group of students from across the campus in the rules evaluation. Eight students worked over the course of the spring semester to delve into the rulebook, looking not just for answers, but also for the right questions.

The students did not pull any punches. They asked if the top priority of intercollegiate athletics is consistent with the main values of the NCAA. Is it fair to punish an entire team or university when the violators are often long gone without ever being punished? How do we align the noncommercial ethics of college sports with commercial practices such as merchandising?

Half the students in the group are philosophy majors, the rest seeking degrees in educational leadership, business administration, financial management and management. One student hopes to work for ESPN, while two foresee law school in their futures. Another student is intrigued by economics and studies television contracts and the visual rhetoric that plays into athlete portrayal on the big screen. Others are athletes themselves.

All share a common bond: the love of sports and sports-related topics. "I think the most valuable thing I learned from the class that I will carry with me into my career after Clemson is that there is nothing wrong with asking for help from others around you," according to Matt Jordan, a senior from Piedmont, majoring in philosophy. "Some of my best ideas came from conversations with other people in the class, and I like to think I helped some others in progressing their ideas."

According to student Doug Margison, a junior majoring in philosophy from West Hartford, Conn., "This was an unforgettable experience, and hopefully one day I will be able to look back and say I had one of those conversations that changed the game."

Why are NCAA violations such a hot button topic at the moment? Wueste, Barker and their students suggested that the economy has put more focus on how money is being spent within universities. Also, college sports affect a huge national audience, from avid fans to parents of pee wee ball players, who shell out enormous amounts of money for number-branded jerseys and cross their fingers that this year's MVPs will set the right kind of examples.

At the conclusion of the CI class, the students presented their research to Barker and other members of his working group - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman and North Carolina Central University Chancellor Charles Nelms. Those three university leaders have their work cut out for them as they prepare to make recommendations to the NCAA sometime next year.

But in the meantime, the path forward may be a bit clearer thanks to the hard work and creative inquiry of eight very special Clemson students.

By: Jeannie Davis and Mary Parker (Decipher Issue 1, Fall 2012)