Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for April 7th, 2007

Reading, writing, and recruiting

Posted by digglahhh on 7 April 2007

No discussion of higher education, graduation rates and the dumbing-down of universities would be complete without consideration of the oxymoronic euphemism, “student athlete.” This is not to say that all student athletes are students by label alone, but a substantial number of the most visible, successful and revenue-producing ones are. It turns out this should come as no surprise. Many up and coming NBA stars probably went to a Potemkin Village high school where only the basketball court was real. First, let’s look at those graduation rates.

The most recent episode of HBO’s Costas Now featured a story about the loose academic requirements and special treatment afforded to athletes who play for major collegiate teams (mainly basketball and football) and the pressure, economic and otherwise, put on professors to pass those athletes, in effect, on the basis of their athletic instead of academic performance.

A roundtable discussion on the poor graduation rates of student athletes followed, in which we saw Costas exhibit an increasingly rare journalistic acumen. When NCAA President, Myles Brand crowed that student athletes had higher graduation rates than students overall, Costas called out the apples to oranges analogy, noting that students frequently leave school for non-academic reasons that range from career opportunities (as was the case with Costas himself during his senior year at Syracuse) to financial burdens.

Brand continued to talk about student athletes on the whole. Once again, Costas admonished him for quoting the statistics in a manner that groups Ivy League fencing teams with Big East basketball teams. The bottom line is that several perennial college basketball and football powerhouses graduate fewer than half of their players. The roster of the UNLV’s 1990-91 undefeated basketball team can boast more Final Four appearances than degrees. Not surprisingly, UNLV soon found themselves in some pretty hot water ranging from gambling to booster scandals. (I self-nominate that sentence for pun of the month; take a look at this photo of three of the members of that UNLV basketball team in a jacuzzi with Gambino Family member Richie “The Fixer” Perry.)

These student athletes arrive at college able to solve the half court trap. But do they come qualified to solve a quadratic equation? As it turns out, more and more of them never see one in high school, coming, as they do, from fly-by-night, storefront prep schools.

Yes, prep schools, though not those stiflingly proper institutions where seersucker-clad young Republicans are sent to hobnob with other future subjects of Michael Moore documentaries, where Oliver was taught not to fall in love with girls like Jenny, where Gene and Phineas made their separate peace. After all, I doubt, even, if Finny were able to dunk from the free throw line, he probably would have considered it unsporting…

The baskeball prep-school mill was the focus recently of HBO’s other sports journalism show, the phenomenal Real Sports. It recently featured a story that will be disturbing to anyone except, well, the strictest caveat-emptor libertarian subject of a Michael Moore documentary. In many states, the process of starting up a private school is incredibly simple. So, spirited entrepreneurs assemble high school Dream Teams and then create a school for them to attend. These schools are often nothing more than warehouses with a few chairs and a chalkboard (probably used primarily for diagramming defensive schemes, not equations). Academics barely exist, if at all. But, there’s more.

The NCAA’s academic requirements are based on a sliding scale of G.P.A. and S.A.T scores. The higher a student’s G.P.A., the lower he needs to score on his SATs to be granted academic eligibility. At a 3.55, a student literally does not need to answer a single SAT question correctly to meet the NCAA’s academic standards. So, the stupider your power forward, the more you have to inflate his grades.

NCAA review boards eventually investigate these schools, but by that time the adroit founders have packed up and moved to a different location, with a different name and a new set of 6’5” fifteen year olds who for whom it is easier to reverse dunk than calculate the hoop’s circumference. For one school that Real Sports looked into, the NCAA announced that it completed an investigation and would no longer be honoring its transcripts. The school had been closed down for over a year.

Meanwhile, the morally bankrupt venture capitalists who organize these schools profit from their next nationally known high school basketball team,are playing the role of mentor to young men in fractured living situations with the athletic talent to become multi-millionaires.

Both episodes of these shows are currently available on HBO On-Demand, for those who have it.

A lot of times we find ourselves asking questions unprepared for their disturbing answers. For many of these “student” athletes, how they got into college in the first place is one of them.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 5 Comments »