Auburn fumbles football academics, falls from 4th to 85th

auburnCan great college athletes be great students? Or, are we asking too much of them?

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

81 comments Add your comment


January 6th, 2011
10:22 am

They are just getting practice for juggle the everyday aspects of LIFE. Wait until they have careers, rush hour traffic, come home to make diner, helping the kids with homework and getting the children ready for bed all in the same day for five days a week.

Sports will seem like childs play.

What's best for kids?

January 6th, 2011
10:25 am

So, Auburn wasn’t as high as he thought, and this Thomas Petee is not really directing or overseeing; he is passing these students along with a degree from Auburn…nice

Maureen Downey

January 6th, 2011
10:31 am

@EnoughAlready, Having a full-time job and four kids, I still think college athletes have a rougher time. The pressure on them to perform, in stadiums with thousands of cheering fans in the stands, in front of millions of TV viewers, is beyond anything that most of us will ever experience. And then after these public extravaganzas, they are supposed to dial down the adrenaline, go back to their dorm rooms and write a 22-page paper on Irish playwright John Millington Synge.

Bruce Kendall

January 6th, 2011
10:40 am

This is one example of why a student can get an A in one school, and then when the student transfers to another school in the same school system they struggle to just pass.


January 6th, 2011
10:46 am

I played basketball and I still believe that every day life is harder. Also, about 65% of those athletes are being well taken care of by the schools athletic programs (Auburn is just one example). Many are not completing 22 page papers or doing homework by themselves. A lot of them are getting financial and academic support that others in the same school can only dream about. Heck a lot of them don’t even go to class.

Of the athletes you describe, I believe that only about 25% fall into that category.


January 6th, 2011
10:53 am

If it was a “beauty pageant” , I might make a comment …But football…?@$##@%%
I don’t know nothin about it. I can’t relate. The boys always cried “Oh No” if I got the ball.


January 6th, 2011
11:03 am

University of Maimi was ranked #3 in football player graduation rate under thier coach the past few seasons. The coach was fired due to not making a bowl game. I guess football is more important than an education. I hope this years seniors relealize there will not get a pay check playing next year when the NFL has a lock out. Now that will be an independent study lesson in sociology.

V for Vendetta

January 6th, 2011
11:14 am

Enough Already,

Did you play basketball in college? At a D1 school?

I was a college athlete at a D1 school, and I can confirm that the pressure to perform in and out of the classroom is enormous. Nights often end late, and practices often begin early the next morning. My schedule went somehing like this:

Wake up at 5am
Practice at 5:30am to 7:30am
Class from 9am-1pm
Practice from 2:30-5:30
Homework or study hall
Attempt to be in bed by 11pm

Of course, for the few of us who cared about our academics, this was a rigorous and demanding schedule. Though we had access to some tutors and review sessions, they were mainly geared towards the lower-level classes and required undergrad courses. Anything beyond that, and you were on your own.

The ways in which they pass the lower-performing student athletes on is deplorable but all part of the college athletics game. I’ve not student-athletes who could BARELY READ yet somehow remained eligible to play. For every ONE school you hear about on the news that got busted, there are literally dozens and dozens more breaking twice as many NCAA rules. Dirty little secrets.

I teach, coach, have two kids, and work most weekends. At best, it’s about equal, but when you factor in the physical exhaustion that came with daily double practices, I think Maureen is right: college athletes (who care about their academics) have it rough.

That being said, I wouldn’t change my experience for anything, and I would be thrilled if my children were able to experience the honor of competing for their school or the rush of competition at such a high level.

V for Vendetta

January 6th, 2011
11:15 am

Yuck. Sorry for the typos. I didn’t make in bed by 11pm last night. :-)

V for Vendetta

January 6th, 2011
11:16 am

Even THAT had typos! Sheesh!


January 6th, 2011
11:42 am

Regarding the black-white disparity in college graduation rates, senior Auburn offensive lineman Mike Berry correctly attributed the disparity to the preparation the kids received in high school. “School systems coming out of high school and stuff like that,” he said. He correctly traced the problem to the high schools.

Maureen notes the stress on a college student-athlete combining athletics and academics. Rarely noted is the often 20+ hours a high school football player must devote to practice, games, pre-game meals, etc.—little wonder there’s little energy left for study. Only the most structured families w/ adequate family-resources manage to guide students to both academic and athletic success.

In regards to the plight of black male athletes, administrators, coaches and coaches organizations typically ignore the problem. Football coaches in particular look out for their own interests—wins—rather than the academic growth of the young men. Administrators are complicit; teacher hires are often prioritized on coaching needs.

GHSAA, a coaches organization that sets the rules of athletic participation, allows a “student-athlete” to remain eligible for competition if he/she fails math or language arts all four years of high school. That one rule speaks volumes to the exploitation embedded in Georgia athletics.

It’s silly to grumble about the disparity of graduation rates on the collegiate level w/out tracing and correcting the root cause—the K-12 deference to athletics.


January 6th, 2011
11:57 am

Would the day come when real scholars are supported and deferred to like athletes!

Really amazed

January 6th, 2011
11:59 am

Being passed along in these colleges sounds just like what is going on in Georgia public high schools. Some things never change! Plus, as far as the football players having practice and performances after practice and performances, so do the students in the band. They practice and perform more often then the football players. At least the football season ends. Band practice and performance goes on ALL year long.


January 6th, 2011
12:00 pm

I can say this…the Athletic Base (which is what the TAX BASE is in our PUBLIC SCHOOLS) …brings in the money…

Follow the money…and you will figure out where it ranks in performance along with the academic talents of the athletes…

I think the schools drain the “talents” of these individuals…

Inman Park Boy

January 6th, 2011
12:09 pm

I don’t know when your brother played, but “things” have gotten a lot worse in the last thirty years. College athletics used to be about providing a pastime for the students, along the lines of “let’s get a team together and play that school down the road.” While college athletics prospered up until the seventies, it wasn’t until the advent of Cable TV and the infusion of millions upon millions of dollars that the “game” became more about money than about student life. There is such pressure on players, coaches, and AD’s to win (at ANY cost) that, that for all intents and purposes, college athletics are now tantamount to professional athletics. We need to decide what it is we want.


January 6th, 2011
12:10 pm

Why stop with the band? There are the cheerleaders who go from sport to sport in a very physically demanding team. Throw in the student trainers. There isn’t just the band but the pep band, the symphony, the jazz band, the chorus, the Student Government Association, the theater group.

All these groups involve various amounts of travel, performances, practice during the breaks and I am barely scratching the surface.


January 6th, 2011
12:25 pm

This disgusts me. Chizlik’s quote, “We do a great job, so we’re not concerned with that” in regards to academic performance, and his disregard for the futures of the black atheletes he coaches, indicate his contempt for the college part of college athletics. I cannot understand any supposed institution of learning and research that would tolerate this attitude. If that is the way he feels, he should be coaching in the pros.

These students are working hard, but they are receiving extraordinary benefits: They do not hold a job (which the majority of their college peers must do), they do not pay their way, they have tutors and mandatory study halls, and sadly they are steered into less-demanding classes. The males athletes feed on the dream of a professional athletic career, dreams their coaches use for motivation while knowing full well that only a tiny percentage will ever have such an opportunity. Their best hope for a successful life is a useful education, yet coaches like this loathesome vampire Chizlik brush that aside in pursuit of a win/loss record that will make them more money.

The students who work hard to succeed at Auburn do not deserve to have their academic credentials denigrated by students and faculty who believe the academic mission of the school is irrelevant to them. If the school itself is complicit in this belief, it should lose its tax-exept status. If Auburn – or Georgia, or any other university – truly places the education of its students before all else, predatory parasites like Chizlik should be fired immediately.

Really amazed

January 6th, 2011
12:30 pm

@Michael, Yes, you are so very correct!!!! Jazz, concert, pep, orchestra pit, all-state, honor band, all-select and was just honored with being nominated and selected to participate in the UGA JanFeast which will take up another weekend. These students must meet the academic min to participate as well. Then add a spring sport and community service to the mix. This makes Football season seem like easy street! Sorry, just say’in.


January 6th, 2011
12:46 pm

The bottom line is that these students choose to participate in athletic activities they enjoy. They can always quit – perhaps except those athletes who can only attend colleges with the athletic scholarships. Some of the money-making sports (i.e., football and basketball) take advantage of those students.


January 6th, 2011
12:49 pm

Are we surprised? Schools with large football or basketball programs recruit atheletes who can meet academic requirements (at least on paper) for one sole purpose: to play major sports for the university. Those are the money sports, which generate revenue for the universities so they can have girl’s soccer teams. If the university wishes to waive standard requirements to keep these guys playing money sports, so be it. Personally, I think they need to create a degree in “Sports Performance” that use training, mandatory practices and games as the classes, and quit the charade that 90% of college football and basketball players are there to be students and earn a degree. For the rare player who wants a real degree, allow them to double major.

the prof

January 6th, 2011
12:49 pm

Maureen, one point you are missing. I recently had an argument with a University strength coach who thought it would be completely acceptable to pay athletes. My final point that he could not respond to was that many college students may not have the “rush-hour” schedule that athletes do, but an average non-athlete will come out of school $25,000 or much more in debt. A ready made mortgage at the age of 21-22. A scholarship athlete does not have that pressure. They graduate debt free without having to worry about housing, food, utilities, etc…Non-athletes have lots of pressure too, albeit different kinds. BTW, I have four small children as well (one very special needs), am the primary caregiver since mom works out of town every day and a full-time job that I put a lot into. I’d change places with an athlete any day!!!


January 6th, 2011
1:17 pm

Really amazed…..oh yeah, I sure the band members are getting yelled at and threaten with being demotes to 2nd team….uh, what is band 2nd team like?


January 6th, 2011
1:21 pm

Chizik said, “Those are circumstances; there’s all kinds of different things.” Could someone interpret this for me?

Ken- Just curious — Academically what would make a student-athlete ineligible? This stuff is also starting in Middle School sports. I recall a student who was not doing well academically. He played for the high school “feeder team.” The coach made a deal with the kid’s teachers: we keep him informed of problems (which did continue) and the young man would not play. Problem was he was so good, that the coach just couldn’t follow through.
My thoughts are these — Going to college is a choice. Particpating in the athletics is a choice. If you can’t handle the demands of both, don’t do both. Athletics often seem to be more important than academics, especially when the student is good enough – any support he receives is not for him, but for the reputation of the team and what that would earn.


January 6th, 2011
1:25 pm

the prof….can a athlete sell anything he owns(see UGA & Ohio St), can a athelte write for a newspaper and recieve any payment (including as Interns, see Rogers at Nebraska)…uh, the answer is a Big Fat NO to all of the above and then some. Did you know that athletes can not work a job and recieve anything much above minimum wage, why ’cause they may be getting benefits because they are athletes…now do non- athletes have to follow these rules and guidelines…uh, I don’t think so!

NY Times Article on AU Academics

January 6th, 2011
1:27 pm

[...] The Real Picture of Auburn Athletic Academics Article was mentioned in the ajc, today, too: Auburn fumbles football academics, falls from 4th to 85th | Get Schooled Reply With Quote + Reply to Thread « Previous Thread | Next [...]


January 6th, 2011
1:35 pm

My daughter tutored football players when she attended Auburn. She says more than half couldn’t read at a sixth grade level, never mind do college level work. Make college football a job and end the foolish posing about “academics”. We allow imbeciles into college if they can throw or catch a ball consistently.


January 6th, 2011
1:50 pm

I worked with an all star player at FSU years ago who was “dislexic” and “disgraphic” and “discalculate”. Couldn’t read, write, or do arithmetic but he could run like the wind, and did for 5 years.

Many real scholars would like nice housing, work out rooms, tutors, and a training table, as well as everything paid for, too.


January 6th, 2011
1:52 pm

When televised games show the pics of starting players, a high percentage of these “student-athletes” look incredibly like the mug shots of thugs you can view from the channel 2 website…especially the SEC “student-athletes”. It’s just as much fun to listen or see their majors: communication – recreation – criminology (go figure) – hotel/motel management – parks & recreation – give me a break….they are not student-athletes…they are pawns in a huge money-making operation that has filled division 1 coffers with millions and millions of dollars….as an example, how about the Ohio State players who have been suspended from early season play next year but were allowed by the NCAA AND their school/coach to play in a bowl game…encouraged by bowl sponsors to allow them to play…good grief!

Dr. Phil

January 6th, 2011
1:56 pm

I retired a few years ago as an associate professor in Georgia. If universities raised the admission standard for athletes that of regular admission, football programs would not suffer. Even with the toughest admission standards in the country, the military academies were pretty competitive this year and had no off-field issues. Check out gpa’s and graduation rates for baseball players at UGA and elsewhere. I think that baseball players perform significantly better in academics than average students. Part of the problem is, college football coaches are recruiting non-students with promises of big NFL contracts in three years. Some of thse players have little if any academic credit. Since they are non-students, they have plenty of time to hang out in girlie bars and get in barroom brawls.

Phil Osopher

January 6th, 2011
1:56 pm

Auburn, as a whole, is a joke, academically speaking. For decades, the institution was not permitted to have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa so poor were their standards.


January 6th, 2011
1:56 pm

Are we surprised?


January 6th, 2011
2:01 pm

My son was recently a football player at Auburn, graduated in 3 years and was on the SEC Academic Honor Roll the entire time. Athletes need to realize that they are only one injury away from not being able to play sports but their education will carry them throughout their life. My son is now getting his master’s degree and playing at another school. Life is good!


January 6th, 2011
2:02 pm

Come on keep it real” These Colleges dont care about these athletic, the major college has been using the black male athletic for years.
They always have money for you to play basketball, football, but let a African American male try to be a doctor or lawyer there, is no money for them. This is like a slave to master plantation, look in the stands in the SEC, you will see 98% of whites cheering for that buck to run that ball, they care less if he gets a good education. Once is leaves the school the university dont even hire him at the school, look at the SEC hiring of minorities.

AU Tigress

January 6th, 2011
2:10 pm

My freshman year at Auburn I had a 7 AM Calculus class. There were 5 football players in the class with me. They RARELY missed a class and asked me for help with their homework. These guys took a genuine interest in learning and earned their good grades fair and square. I graduated in ‘02 with a Civil Engineering degree.


January 6th, 2011
2:12 pm

I couldn’t care less about an athlete’s academic progress. I do not pay my money to watch an athlete perform quadratic equations. I pay to watch performance on the athletic field. Some people go to college for the education, some go to meet a spouse, some go to party. These athletes got to play ball.


January 6th, 2011
2:26 pm

Shut up dumb athletes and entertain me. I have money on this game.


January 6th, 2011
2:31 pm

I taught computer lab at UGA as a graduate teaching assistant. I wasn’t teaching athletes who had sacrificed academia to excel on the playing field, I was teaching Betty and Biff undergrad who were just average UGA undergrads. It was astounding to me how poorly these kids spelled, and even worse how bad their math skills were. I think expecting a college athlete to be an outstanding student (or just graduate) is delusional when the high schools have a policy of just failing kids upwards so they don’t have to deal with them any more.

This article would carry more weight if it listed NCAA schools in order of graduation, by race of college athletes rather than just focusing on Auburn or Ole Miss. AT least point to the statistics of they exist.


January 6th, 2011
2:41 pm

Auburn and academics don’t go together!


January 6th, 2011
2:46 pm

No sir, everyday life is rough, these athletes are living in a fantasy world…..


January 6th, 2011
2:50 pm

And we’re not even going to mention or comment on the MILLIONS of dollars that are made off the kids in these D1 schools and the coach can’t even so much buy them a hamburger without the NCAA down their throats! Think about that seriously….the amount of money made at the D1 school off the sports programs and these kids reap NONE of the benefits. Ok, yeah some get scholarships for a free education but even that still does not compare to the amount of money they have made for these universities.


January 6th, 2011
2:52 pm

I’m sure Auburn football fans are donning sackcloth upon hearing such heartbreaking news.


January 6th, 2011
2:54 pm

Schocked, I would never ahve guessed this from such a fine school…LOL This is small compared to what will hit the fan when all the Cam gate gets done,its all about the money and when all is said and done Auburn will be exposed.

the prof

January 6th, 2011
2:55 pm

@dp….former athlete are you? Your comparison is just terrible. How many of those scholarship athletes have those student loans waiting when they graduate???


January 6th, 2011
2:56 pm

Better yet “the Prof” how many get paid 180K !….lol


January 6th, 2011
2:58 pm

That iis an outdated statistic based on 2006 data. Thuis year, Auburn’s football team had more seniors who already had earned their degrees than any other Division I program except for Boston College. Auburn has been in the Top 5 in that category three of the past four years. You owe an apology to Auburn University and a correction for erroneous and outdated information. Contrary to that claim, Auburn has better academics among its athletes than almost any university in the coun try.


January 6th, 2011
3:00 pm

John,please pass the pipe your smoking…lol


January 6th, 2011
3:03 pm

Personally I see this more as irresponsible journalism by the NYT than anything else and I’m surprised the ajc would even bring it up.

I seriously doubt that the sociology scandal had much effect on this rating, the rating almost always drops after a coaching change due to players transferring and leaving early.

The whole article plays with numbers to make the whole sociology incident appear to be worse than it was. To see this just look at this one paragraph

“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″

Most people reading this will see the 3 big numbers here 18, 97 and 252.

18 football players, 97 course hours and 252 courses. It doesn’t mention that the 18 players had taken these courses over a 4-5 year span and it switches between course hours and courses to make it seem like the majority of these courses had been taken by football players.

now lets rewrite it using a few facts. The courses were taken over a 4-5 year span and each course was either a 3 or 5 hour course so 97 / 18 = 5.5 hours per player which comes out to around 32 courses

“He found that 18 players on Auburn’s undefeated 2004 team had taken around 32 directed-reading course hours over a five year time span— independent study-style classes — from Thomas Petee, the sociology department’s highest-ranking member. Petee had taught around 1250 independent studies during those years”

The first way switches between courses, hours and years to exaggerate the number and makes it seem like the percentage of football players doing this was around the upper 30% range and the second which just uses courses and keeps hours and years constant allows us to see the real figure which is around 2.5%.

Additionally the article says that the professors ( 3 of 20+ ) only couldn’t “recall” that they’d seen the players in their class room. Well how hard would it have been to look it up and see if they’d been there. Shouldn’t be difficult. Why wasn’t that mentioned.

Auburn Man

January 6th, 2011
3:05 pm

Yes this is not good. Too many kids being used as money makers and then thrown to the wolves after 2 or 3 seasons. I agree with the post that spoke of the days of entertainment being the reason for football but today the NCAA and D1 colleges have sold their souls to ESPN and ABC and we’ll never see this get any better. I can see a day when the NFL runs the NCAA and the players will be nothing more than temporary employees of the university soon to leave with no education and even less ability to do anything in life but remember the days of old. As an Auburn grad I ashamed of facts like this. I hope we don’t let this continue because at 47 I know how much more there is to life and how unimportant football is.


January 6th, 2011
3:08 pm

And they pay their players to be there too, FBI is investigating it. Everyone knows Scam Newton is getting paid. No one wants to do anything about it until he leaves though, cause then they would lose tons of money on that National Title game they paid to get to.


January 6th, 2011
3:10 pm

The NFL should start a developmental league to allow those who have no interst in an education get on with their athletic pursuits after high school. The admissions requirements for all students should be the same. If it were so, there might be fewer black male athletes admitted, BUT their graduation rate would be equal to white athletes.

BTW band members are ranked ( or “chaired”) according to ability.