By Megan Wanner
An interesting aspect of higher education a journalist should consider looking into is an institution’s athletic programs. Although athletes are supposed to be first and foremost students, this is not always what occurs at universities. There are many aspects that are susceptible to discrepancies that can be overlooked if they are not scrutinized. Among these are graduation rates for student athletes, eligibility standards, athlete academic records and special privileges for athletes.
Documents to Aquire
When investigating college athletics, “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook” suggests that journalists obtain documents such as the university course catalog that outlines information on all the courses offered at the university, the university staff directory containing contact information for all faculty members, data on the sports program budget which can be compared to other universities on the NCAA Web site, team and coach travel expenses records, student athletes’ graduation data, student housing financial assistance and information on previous NCAA investigations that have occurred.
Sometimes, journalists are given allegations about higher education that cause them to look into athletic programs. This was the case when Jan Gangelhoff brought allegations of academic dishonesty against the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team in 1999. George Dohrmann and contributing reporters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press chose to pursue the allegations despite readers’ criticism of their reporting.
In order to complete the story, these reporters had to gain a variety of documents to determine if the allegations Gangelhoff suggested were true. Among these documents were the academic records of many basketball players said to have been involved and Gangelhoff’s records of past papers written for players.
The reporters followed the trail of money that showed Gangelhoff being paid cash to tutor basketball players, a job she had not been cleared by University administrators to do.
The story led to journalists revealing not only the fraud and scandal that had occurred, but how University officials dealt with allegations against their institution, something the reporters at the Pioneer Press may not have originally been looking for.