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
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"
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?
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.