Tuesday, December 06, 2005

College Football Players are Stupid

As a recovering collegiate athlete in a less than popular sport (cross country), I have a particular disdain for big time collegiate athletic programs, and in particular football and basket ball. I am not surprised that many big time sports stars are deficient in their academic pursuits. In fact, I don't really think that ball players are necessarily stupid. Quite contrarily, they are very smart and can be brilliant on the field of play. In fact, fiscally, they may be the most astute as they sign multimillion dollar contracts only after two years of playing for which ever college.

What is fundamentally wrong with big-time college athletic programs is that they have become surrogates for entertainment on campuses that push to identify and extend their brands and put big dollars into their budgets to subsidized lesser known teams (e.g. field hockey, to name one). Moreover, football programs at institutions like Michigan or USC have become farm programs for the professional grid iron performers. As such, what we really need is a wholesale reform of how big-time collegiate athletics are organized. This reorganization must reflect the semi-pro status of basket and football players and how said athletes compensated accordingly.

Indeed, take Jason Kidd as one example - since I happen to know that while he was on campus at Cal Berkeley, he attended nary a class even though he was registered for the proper full load. Two years of nailing jump shots for Cal, he ramped up to a multi-million dollar contract in the professional ranks. Does this mean that he was a bad student, or more so, that he was simply a student of the game and he went to the proper coach to learn and excel? Certainly the lure of big money and lavish lifestyles make it an easy decision for Kidd and his pals to focus not on academics but sports. And, Jason Kidd is only one example.

When society rewards its athletes over its academics, we get what we pay for. Instead of playing the charade that big-time athletes are "student athletes," we should acknowledge that these athletes are simply playing into the hands of an adoring, entertainment-driven spectator class and giving the people what they want. Divorcing big-time athletics from their academic commitments and marrying them to the professional leagues as baseball does with its farm leagues may be the answer. But then, what about the classic tailgate? I suppose therein lies another problem - binge drinking. But I don't think college students will give up drinking if their favorite sporting events were to move from semi-amateur to semi-pro status.

Indeed, removing athletes in such sports from an academic commitment allows them to do what they want without violating some nonsensical rule that is born out of an artificial affiliation that was only once, historically, about an education of the "whole" student - in the truest sense of what collegiate athletics was to be about - education of the mind and the body.

Unfortunately, the cash focus of big-time athletics has tainted the true mission of college athletics (men’s football and basketball in particular). And because of it, we need to bring sports organization into the new millennium. Of course, you could always encourage your child to become a cross country runner (or become one yourself). True enough, there's really not much about being a harrier that reflects the corruption (e.g. steroids and bribes for throwing games, etc...) and draw of big-dollar games. But if you are after a true collegiate athletic experience, from cross country you get nothing but honor, grace, dedication and powerful life lessons that come of the constant pursuit of personal excellence beyond the painful threshold of any given race.

Here's the article that set off this particlar post - I'm pasting the whole thing as it is short, from a rag that requires subscription, and many won't want to subscribe:
Forty-one percent of the college football teams headed to bowl games this year have failed to meet new academic standards set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, according to an annual report released on Monday by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

The report, "APR Rates and Graduation Rates for 2005-06 Bowl-Bound Teams," comes as teams prepare to meet stricter academic requirements that the NCAA recently adopted for college athletes. Under a new measurement called the Academic Progress Rate, or APR, teams score points based on how well their athletes do in the classroom and whether players are making progress toward their degrees.

Twenty-three of the 56 bowl teams are failing to meet the new academic-progress standards, the report found.

This year marks the first time the Central Florida institute has used APR data to measure the academic status of bowl teams. In the past, it used only graduation-rate data. The report notes that almost half of this season's bowl teams have failed to graduate 50 percent of their players within six years.

Starting next fall, the NCAA can penalize colleges whose teams do not meet the new standards by cutting back the number of athletic scholarships they are allowed to offer. Richard E. Lapchick, the report's author, said in an interview on Monday that he hoped the scholarship penalties would cause more institutions to improve their athletes' academic performance.

"For the first time, the NCAA can sanction schools for not doing what they are supposed to be doing: educating the people who come to our campuses," Mr. Lapchick said. "My hope is that because there are consequences, institutions will pay more attention to what their athletes are doing."

According to the report, Northwestern University and Boston College scored the best of any bowl teams. Both teams graduated almost 80 percent of their players.

All the bowl-bound teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East Conference met the NCAA's academic standards. But all five bowl teams from the Pacific 10 Conference, including the No. 1-ranked University of Southern California, did not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Successful college and professional team sports are like NASCAR

The winners are the smartest combination of athletes and coaches.

Education per se didn't make Bill Gates rich.

The ability to focus on the task at hand over long periods, sometimes years, isn't something that lends itself readily to measurement, yet the ability to apply oneself is a necessary component of success. Athletes have it.

There's a symbiotic branding relationship in college team sports that resembles NASCAR. Smart sponsors back winners. Winners find sponsors smart enough to back them. Maybe 'education' needs to be defined more broadly that it currently is.