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Community reacts to new football plan

Faculty and students are expressing mixed reactions to a new mission statement for the football team that seeks to help rebuild the program.

The statement, released last week by President Nan Keohane's office, calls for accepting more football players at the lower end of the SAT and grade point average range typically allowed for players, while also hiking coaches' salaries based on demonstrated success.

"I was flabbergasted by the statement. If it had been part of a Doonesbury cartoon it would have seemed reasonable," said Research Professor of Biology Peter Klopfer. He added that despite University officials' assertions otherwise, the admissions move translates into a lowering of academic standards. Further, he said linking the team's win-loss record to the coaches' salaries is detrimental to the program.

"It's a matter of what is more important to the institution--academic values or promoting professional athletics," Klopfer continued. "To give coaches stipends that are vastly in excess [of faculty's and administrators'], to tie those salaries to the degree at which they are able to recruit players and to juggle admissions so as to achieve that recruitment goal makes a mockery of academic standards."

Klopfer said the idea that a better football team will help the University on an institution-wide level was also faulty, noting that in the past 30 years Duke has become one of the strongest schools in the country both academically and financially, despite an unsuccessful football program.

Athletic Council Chair and biology professor Kathleen Smith said the proposed changes are minimal.

"We're not really talking about any type of overall lowering of standards," Smith said. "We're just talking about accepting a few more in football at the lower end of the spectrum. We know that these students can thrive at Duke."

Prasad Kasibhatla, Athletic Council member and associate professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, agreed.

"The admissions changes don't seem to be very major," Kasibhatla said. "I think the issue is how faculty can be more involved in the overall direction of [these policies]."

However, Smith said she worried about the trend of accepting more students at the bottom of the range.

"As we are increasing the expectations of the student body as a whole and as the curricular demands become greater, I am concerned that the gap [between players and other students] will widen," she said.

Students also expressed mixed sentiments about the mission statement--which Keohane, Director of Athletics Joe Alleva and Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag all unconditionally backed this week.

"Academics have to come first," said sophomore Emma Boa-Durgammah. "When Duke was founded, it was because of academics, not because of sports. Lowering the standards would go against the meaning of a college education."

Sophomore Andrew Bray said some athletes are certainly capable of handling Duke's academics. "My roommate last year was a football player, and he was an awesome athlete and an engineer, too. If he can do it then [other players] can do it too," he said.

Some students justified the new admissions plan by pointing to economic benefits.

"If you have really high standards and a bad team, that means less money; then, by lowering the standards for players, it might benefit the rest of the students," said senior Aaron Windecker. "What we have to ask is how much money is it worth to lower the standards?" he continued. "Are 10 SAT points worth, say, a million dollars in increased revenue?... And if you turn it around, would we be willing to pay a million dollars to raise the standards, to get those extra 10 points?"

Students mostly thought the coaches' salary increases made sense.

"If they're going to give all the players scholarships and free food points, and build new stadiums, they should give the coaches some money too," said sophomore Thomas McLure.

Cindy Yee contributed to this story.

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