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THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL
John Underwood
May 19, 1980
The rash of phony transcripts and academic cheating spells out the fact that athletics are now an abomination to the ideals of higher education. Victims: the student-athletes. Culprits: the system and those who run it
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May 19, 1980

The Writing Is On The Wall

The rash of phony transcripts and academic cheating spells out the fact that athletics are now an abomination to the ideals of higher education. Victims: the student-athletes. Culprits: the system and those who run it

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"The parents fall into the trap. They're happy their son is being 'taken care of.' If he is really exceptional in athletics, the townspeople get involved, from the mayor on down. They treat him specially, to the point where he doesn't have a real perspective on life. 'Things' are done for him. No one wants to spoil his chances to make it big.

"The college recruiter visits. He tells the parents that he will 'take care' of their boy, make sure this or that doesn't happen, that he'll have the best of this and that. Still the young man hasn't had to deal with the day-to-day frustrations other youngsters face. He's quite willing to accept this attention—his name in the paper, a suit of clothes, being steered away from classes he 'won't need.' After all, he's going to be a pro.

"The boy goes through his college career 'protected.' Special dormitories, special food, carefully chosen courses. He lives with youngsters of the same interests. There are no distractions, no problems, no frustrations. We coaches feel we have to try harder and harder, because that's what our competition does, and so we do more and more to segregate the athlete. And he goes willingly.

"We do everything but educate him. We're afraid he'll fail, so we look for ways of making it easier instead of ways to educate him. Soon his entire outlook is distorted.

"It can be devastating."

Thus, the devastation begins long before the student-athlete reaches for the top rung of the educational ladder, and there's little the colleges can do about the failure below. Whether or not a high school diploma is much more than a certificate of attendance is outside the NCAA's jurisdiction so long as the student's record is dutifully recorded on the proper transcript form. Universities know that often the secondary schools are writing fiction—about non-athletes as well as athletes. SAT scores for all high schoolers, which the schools can't tamper with, have fallen at a rate of 2� points a year over the last decade, indicating that incoming freshmen are more poorly prepared than they used to be. Many colleges have had to set up massive and expensive remedial reading and mathematics programs for first-year students. Ohio State found that more than half its freshman class in 1978 needed remedial math and a fourth needed remedial English.

A unique comparative study was recently completed by Dr. Alvin C. Eurich, currently the president of the Academy for Educational Development. In 1928 he administered a reading examination for 1,313 freshmen at the University of Minnesota and 4,191 high school seniors in the state. In 1978 he gave the same test to a similarly diverse group of 865 freshmen at Minnesota, and the scores were significantly poorer across the board. The freshmen of '78 even tested at a lower reading level than the high school seniors of '28. And it wasn't just that a larger slice of the population (45.5%) goes to college now than did in 1928 (12%), resulting in a lower average score. In the top 1%, the very best of '78 tested at a significantly lower level than the very best of a half century ago.

From the moment the student-athlete sets foot on campus, the name of the game is "majoring in eligibility," and it is a vulgar, callous, shameful, cynical—and perfectly legal—exploitation of the system by and for the American college athlete. The formal term for it is "normal progress toward a degree." But the NCAA's definition of "progress" won't be found in any dictionary; for one thing, "progress" in the student-athlete lexicon can mean no progress at all.

Here is how Bernard Madison of Chicago was making "progress" toward a degree at Montana State University:

Madison is 20 years old. At Hirsch High School on the South Side of Chicago, he grew to be 6'5" tall and a better-than-average basketball player. Maybe not a pro prospect, but good enough to make first team of the All-City squad in 1978. He graduated with a 2.7 grade-point average, which put him in a good position to make basketball pay for his higher education.

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