While I have read many news stories on this issue, it came to life for me when I was stranded in an airport in South Bend with a women’s college soccer team from Florida that had just played Notre Dame. These young women were wrapped in blankets, sitting on the floor of the crowded waiting area reading textbooks, working on term papers and studying for tests. They all looked exhausted, and were nervous about getting back late as they had classes the next day.
I thought how many 19-year-olds and 20-year-olds could juggle this much?
My older brother was captain of a great college basketball team that did well enough to play in the NCAA tournaments at Madison Square Garden. He was also a good student, but once collapsed in a practice and ended up in the infirmary with mono. He was back on the court in a week. His entire college experience seemed to be rushing, to class, to practice, to planes, to buses, to arenas. I am not sure that I’d want that pace for my college-aged children. Always thin, my brother had to struggle to keep up his weight in college.
Here is a New York Times follow-up to its 2006 articles on Auburn’s football program and the academic loopholes that enabled players to appear in better standing than they were. The story points out that since Auburn closed the loopholes, the academic standings of its football players has plummeted.
But I still wonder if we ask too much of student-athletes. We want them to be stars on the field, as the Auburn players are, and scholars in the classroom. Is that fair?
Here is the Times story in part: (It’s a great piece. If you can, read the whole thing.)
Auburn’s top-ranked football team, which is preparing to play Oregon in Glendale, Ariz., for the national title on Monday, has tumbled in the N.C.A.A.’s most important academic measurement to No. 85 from No. 4 among the 120 major college football programs.
The decline came after the university closed several academic loopholes following a New York Times article in 2006 that showed numerous football players padded their grade-point averages and remained eligible through independent-study-style courses that required little or no work. Auburn has earned a certain sort of praise from those who were its toughest critics in 2006.
“Auburn was in a rogue position and they corrected it,” said Gordon Gee, who in 2006, when he was Vanderbilt’s chancellor, was stunned that Auburn was ranked higher than his university. Gee is now president of Ohio State. “When those loopholes are closed and the issue is dramatically different, it shows that the loophole was being used. I applaud Auburn. They really did make a concerted effort to curb those abuses. We should applaud them even if they dropped 80 points.”
Auburn’s drop in the Academic Progress Rate, a four-year assessment of the movement toward graduation for a team’s players, is the third largest in college football since 2006, behind Mississippi’s (to 113 from 18) and Florida State’s (to 105 from 17). Since 2006, both Florida State and Michigan have endured academic scandals, with Michigan’s ranking falling to 84 from 27.
Among all the bowl teams this season, Auburn has the highest disparity in the graduation rates between white players (100 percent) and black players (49 percent), according to a study at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.
Jim Gundlach, the Auburn sociology professor who uncovered the academic abuse, saw the decline in the team’s ranking as progress. “A genuine consequence to this has been that the people who want to do things right have gotten a bit more grasp over what the university is trying to do,” he said.
Auburn’s athletic director, Jay Jacobs, declined to comment. The Tigers’ second-year football coach, Gene Chizik, said of his team’s academic performance and support, “We do a great job, so we’re not concerned with that.” When pressed on the issue of graduating black players, Chizik said, “Those are circumstances; there’s all kinds of different things.”
In 2006, Auburn football was No. 1 among public universities in the academic ranking, alongside private institutions like Duke and Boston College. But some irregularities had caught Gundlach’s attention two years earlier.
He saw on television that an academic football player of the week was an Auburn sociology major, yet Gundlach was surprised that he had never had him in class. He asked two other sociology professors, who also did not recall having him as their student. Gundlach dug through records and soon found that Auburn football players were graduating as sociology majors without taking sociology courses in the classroom.
He found that 18 players on Auburn’s undefeated 2004 team had taken 97 directed-reading course hours — independent study-style classes — from Thomas Petee, the sociology department’s highest-ranking member. Petee taught 252 independent studies in one academic year, 2004-5, astounding Auburn faculty members, who said that overseeing 10 independent studies would be considered ambitious.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog