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Just in time for the 2011 college football season, the October Atlantic cover story issued a thorough (read: 25,000-word) indictment of today's college sports. Pulitzer-winning historian Taylor Branch likens the current system, in which TV networks, coaches, and the bureaucrat in the middle of it all—the NCAA—to a plantation reaping millions off the backs of young athletes, many of them African American. Noting the legions of scandals now facing the NCAA, Branch calls for U.S. colleges to abandon the spirit of amateurism — that noble ideal that athletics can be a moral-forming institution in collegiate life — in favor of a simpler idea: Start paying student-athletes.

Julie Davis, the newly appointed athletics director at Wheaton College, Illinois, is in a different world. She appreciates the dilemmas of Division I sports, but her perspective reflects the unique place athletics has at a Christian school.  

Davis, Wheaton's first female athletic director and associate director since 2003, spoke with CT about the Atlantic essay and the role athletics play in shaping students Christward.

You say the scene Branch describes—of antitrust lawsuits, jerseys exchanged for free tattoos, TV ads—is a world apart from your own. What are the main differences between Div. III and Div. I athletic programs?

Div I schools give athletics scholarships. So the students at Div III schools should not be receiving any money based on ability. At Div I schools, in some cases, you're getting an education because of your athletic abilities. Another big difference is that Div. I athletics are typically massively revenue-generating, linked to endorsements and networks in terms of television contracts. That is just not the ...

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October 2011

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