- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Once in junior college, a student who hasn't graduated from high school must maintain a certain grade-point average and pass X number of hours (usually 2.0 and 48 hours) to qualify for a four-year school—but the curricula are often undemanding, and there is no organization to act as a watchdog over such standards as do exist.
And if a coach's prize recruit with fifth-grade reading skills or his J.C. All-America transfer with no discernible academic background isn't making it in the dancing classes at State U., well, then there are always extension courses.
If the recent scandals at Arizona State and New Mexico revealed anything, they exposed the temptations posed by extension programs, some of which apparently can be taught anywhere—in a garage or in somebody's rumpus room. Sometimes these courses are Mickey Mouse electives, the direct descendants of the old "basket-weaving" classes.
As colleges have sought more and varied ways to extend their educational offerings, and in the process reap more revenues, coaches have been equally inventive at finding more dodges for keeping their athletes eligible. Under the umbrella of "continuing education" most colleges today offer a staggering variety of both pre-and post-baccalaureate "adult" programs—off campus and on, weekends and nights, with life-experience credits and correspondence credits. In some cases the schools under whose auspices extension courses are given don't appear to be overly concerned about who takes the courses and whether the students do the work the classes might require.
There are no hard statistics on where all this academic fast shuffle with miscellaneous outside credits and a college's own "gut" courses has led, but there is a strong conviction among critics of the system that it does not lead to the grandiose graduation rates the athletic departments of many four-year schools claim. Unfortunately, short of standing at the auditorium door and counting noses, there is no way to tell. Professor Harry Edwards, the black activist who is a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, recently petitioned the NCAA for a breakdown on the diploma rate of athletes on scholarship. He wanted to know percentages by sport, race, major fields of study, etc. An NCAA research assistant wrote back, "I can give you no answers to any [of your questions]. I do not know of any study that tells" such things.
Thus, a high graduation rate among student-athletes is easy to claim. Who's going to argue? Especially since 1974, when the so-called Buckley Amendment, which deals with rights of privacy, was passed by Congress. The amendment in effect bars access to a student's grades and certain other education records unless the student approves their release, and many schools interpret the legislation to mean that they must withhold all academic information, even the fact of whether a student graduated. No wonder that when Iowa State boasted of a "76% graduation rate" among its football players last year, former Athletic Academic Adviser Bill Munn of the University of Iowa called it "a lot of poppycock. Show me a Big Eight program that claims it graduates 70% or 80% of its athletes and I'll show you hypocrisy."
Did Munn mean the figures were false?
"Well, yes and no. It's how you count. Iowa and Michigan graduate about 60% of their football players—but that percentage includes all the football players who showed up as freshmen. A lot of high-powered football factories like to tell you how many of the senior players graduate, but they never tell the attrition rate among freshmen and sophomores. Many big programs lose 25 to 30 players the first two years. It looks better if you only count the ones still on the team at the end of four years."
The whole thorny issue of what a student-athlete is, and what the process expects of him, and he of it, may be decided by a case in California civil court. There, seven athletes, all dropouts from Cal State at Los Angeles, are suing the school, its president and their three former coaches for $14 million. They claim breach of contract and misrepresentation—that they were promised basketball scholarships and got, instead, student loans, for which they were billed after their eligibility had expired. They also claim they did not receive anything remotely resembling a college education.
The seven say their coaches virtually worked overtime to keep them from being brushed by the fires of academe. Randy Echols, 26, the group's spokesman, says that the three Cal State coaches did all the classroom "arranging," that there were athletes on the dean's list who read at the third-grade level, that his own arranged schedule included Water Polo, Badminton and Theory of Movement. He says he had dropped such courses "behind his coaches' backs" to pick up economics, English, speech, etc. Echols was a B student and president of the student body at Verbum Dei High in Watts in 1971. He is now a field representative for State Senator Bill Greene.