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    Armchair philosopher, politically-incorrect political commentator, raconteur, retired air traffic controller, dilettante truck driver, US Army veteran, recluse, sometime-writer, redneck convert neè Buckeye, ne'er-do-well, bon vivant, unrepentant libertine, unapologetic libertarian, and (of course) curmudgeon…

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Making college athletes actually study? And graduate? Oh, the humanity!

Posted by The Curmudgeon on March 20, 2010

Time to re-align priorities?

For those accustomed to my doing a fair amount of bashing of all things Obama—…well, you might want to direct your attention to a different blog for a moment.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (appointed by his old pal Barry Obama) recently caused a bit of a stir in the world of college basketball by proposing that schools failing to graduate at least forty per cent of their athletes be barred from post-season competition; as might be expected, the announcement hasn’t been greeted with open arms by coaches at many powerhouse universities.


If anything, the proposal doesn’t go far enough. Duncan should be praised—and encouraged to go farther. (Anyone who’s suffered through some of those post-game interviews with players barely able to string-together a coherent sentence should agree.)

No one will outdo me in extolling the virtues of scholastic sports—all the way from middle school to college. They teach discipline, develop leaders, and foster teamwork. Beginning decades ago, colleges began offering athletic scholarships that offered educational opportunities to some who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education—providing yet another impetus for pursuing athletic excellence. I participated in sports through high school, and encourage others to do so.

One thing I clearly remember, though: from the first time I suited-up in the seventh grade through my senior year of high school, we all understood that if we didn’t maintain our grades we wouldn’t be eligible to play.

Somewhere along the line, however, priorities became skewed; what was once considered a strictly extracurricular activity became the primary (and — for some — sole) reason for attending college. Grades became almost an afterthought (as did class attendance). Athletic programs demanded more and more of the student-athlete’s time. Athletic programs themselves became cash-cows for the universities. Academic performance by many athletes became downright embarrassing; some claimed to have never attended classes for which they received full credit, and at least one prominent professional sports figure revealed after his playing days were over that he’d remained functionally illiterate through the four years he’d attended one of the most prestigious universities in the nation.

Finally, the NCAA stepped-in several years ago and established minimum academic standards and oversight for collegiate athletics; unfortunately, they didn’t set the bar very high—but, at least it was something.

Despite such reforms, academic performance by college athletes isn’t what it should be. Meanwhile, universities reap huge returns on their investments in athletic programs—proceeds which are not shared with the athletes, owing to their amateur standing. (It has been suggested that this constitutes a form of modern “gladiator”-style slavery, of sorts.) After capitalizing (practically for free) on sole access to students’ athletic prowess, universities can essentially discard them once they’ve exhausted their eligibility—whether they’ve graduated or not (most haven’t).

Not graduating wouldn’t be such an issue if every scholarship athlete stepped into professional sports and became an instant zillionaire; the simple truth, though, is that only a small percentage do so. Do the math: there are hundreds of colleges—and only a relative handful of professional franchises. For example, the NBA comprises thirty teams; the NCAA’s “March Madness” tournament alone features only the top sixty-four college teams. Pretty long odds, there—and this ignores the very real possibility of a career-ending injury being sustained during an athlete’s collegiate career.

Bear in mind, also, that many college athletes aren’t challenged all that much, academically speaking. Take a look at their majors; some appear to be less intellectually-charged than Basket Weaving 101. Degree or not, how employable are they going to be?

So…after four years of labor and wear-and-tear, those who don’t carve-out a niche at the professional level may well come up woefully short on marketability.

…and now universities are biting fingernails over a requirement to graduate a paltry forty per cent ?



3 Responses to “Making college athletes actually study? And graduate? Oh, the humanity!”

  1. GrannyLin said

    When I worked at a local high school, top athletes (and cheerleaders) were excused from “mandatory” detentions and suspensions from extracurricular activities (consequences of their actions was supposed to be an educational priority), because there was a game that night. It is not just the colleges that fail to instill responsibility in these kids. It is everyone that should be watching out for these young people that are more interested in the games. They are JUST GAMES! But don’t tell my dad I said that.

    • Laura S said

      Haha… I’m with you on that….just games. They take their high school sports very seriously down here in the south. When my girls were in, we went to several games as did the entire town and most didn’t have any children in school. I mentioned one time to someone on the board of ed. that they took their sports much more seriously than their academics and was told that the sports brought the money in, the academics didn’t.

  2. According to US News & World Report, the average graduation rate of college basketball students is 43%. It seems that Arne Duncan wants to lower the bar, not raise it. Interesting also is the fact that Obama announced today he is supporting West Virginia in its game against Duke. In West Virginia, the average basketball student graduation rate is in the high 30s.

    I agree with you that 40% is too low. Student athletes should be graduating at the identical rate as non-athlete students. Every college in the country except Michigan’s Hillsdale accepts federal funding. For that reason, the only criteria that should apply for acceptance is academic.

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