Meram is scoring some sweet-ass goals of late
Brian, I currently work in collegiate athletics and want to provide some more perspective on the Carty article. (My background quickly, if it matters...UM BA in Econ 2003 [started in Civil Engineering!] / worked in Midwestern mid-major athletic dept. from 04-07 / start work in Ivy League athletic dept. in T-minus 8 days)
First, you are correct in your assertion that "a similar examination of any program in the country would turn an equal or greater level of academic offense." Just because it's happening everywhere doesn't make it okay. Also, we're talking about one very particular situation at UM with Prof. Hagen. Clearly, there is something funny going on there. However, your response doesn't talk about the questions/issues/problems that Carty brings up.
I agree with much of what you say, but UM should be held to a higher standard than 'any program in the country'. Seriously, today's student-athletes lead extraordinary lives - the amount of time that each person spends on his/her sport (practice, strength & conditioning, travel, competition, study hall, community service, etc.) is astounding. And on top of all that, they still have to find time for school. However, todays student-athletes receive an incredible amount of assistance (tutors, study hall, breaks on missing classes/tests, specific advisers, etc.). That's all well-and-good in my eyes. The university pays it back for the dedication and commitment.
But, a student-athlete shouldn't be receiving special assistance from individual professors, any moreso than the rest of the general population. Is it so hard to believe that Hagen is a rogue professor that gives special breaks to UM athletes? Is it also so hard to believe that UM investigated Hagen and found sketchy stuff going on but 1) received a bunch of pressure from Athletics to not do anything about it (believe me, it does happen) and/or 2) didn't want to throw esteemed Prof. Hagens name in the dirt because it would make them look bad, or for fear or repercussion.
The fact (or assertion) that academic services staff funneled student-athletes into Hagen's classes isn't surprising, but it doesn't make it okay. I'm not really sure where the fault lies, you can't blame the staff for trying their damndest to keep kids eligible, you can't blame the student-athletes for taking an easy A, and you can't blame cool Prof. Hagen for wanting to be an insider. For me, it comes down to 'lack of institutional control' by UM administration.
But, Brian please don't use the argument that you can't graduate student-athletes without 'hijinks' as your response to Carty.
Multiple part-response. Part I: "Everyone does it" does not make it okay, that is correct. What makes it okay is the bizarre system in place wherein the only way to make it into a potentially lucrative career in the NFL (and various pro basketball leagues -- one-and-done guys are exceedingly uncommon compared to guys who stay two or three or four years and either make the NBA or head to Europe) is to go to a school you (very probably) aren't prepared to go to.
Michael Oher is the platonic ideal here: a guy who has no business in anything approximating a University except on the football field, but as long as he can maintain his eligibility will get the specialized coaching and training required to turn his massive frame into a golden ticket. Is it more moral to say "sorry, Mike, but please return to the Memphis ghetto"?
I am not bothered by the idea that Michigan admits a certain subset of students who are amongst the 99th percentile in ability in their chosen field -- sports -- but lag badly in other areas because I don't see a difference between sports and other sorts of entertainment-based fields that are academically sanctioned.
The argument I'm trying to advance is different from "everyone does it": everyone should do it, within reason. No one is served by stripping a kid of his eligibility and, later, his scholarship, because he can't hack his coursework. "Won't" is different, of course, and in cases where players aren't going to class and aren't putting in an honest effort there have to be repercussions. But these are largely remedial students; it shouldn't come as a surprise that they need guidance.
Part II: I've never subscribed to the whole "Michigan should be held to a higher standard" thing. Michigan should be held to the exact same standard everyone else should be: to do their best to educate and provide a platform for a stable adult life for their athletes. A large number of athletes deemed eligible by the NCAA are so far behind an average Michigan undergraduate that they would have no chance of maintaining eligibility without the full-time academic support Michigan provides. I think they care about their kids' outcomes and try very hard to keep them eligible, educate them as much as they can given each individual's starting point, and get them degrees. Nothing in the articles changed my opinion on that.
Part III: The Hagen stuff looks bad, and in certain cases it's clear Michigan has exploited him to keep players eligible. That shouldn't happen. But there's enough of a non-athlete population (about 50 over the three years surveyed) for comparison, and it appears that Hagen's just an easy A for anyone.
It does bother me that Hagen appears to be an option for multiple classes for a few students. I don't mind the possibility of one Get Out of Jail Free card, as long as the appropriate amount of work is done. But, like, Chad Kolarik appears to be taking a major in Professor Hagen. Though I love Chad (woo Friday hat trick!), that shouldn't happen.
I'm not trying to excuse the U entirely here: the Ann Arbor News did indeed turn up a few incidents and one general trend that should not be repeated and should be stopped, respectively. But, man... other than the stuff on Day I the rest of it has been weak sauce.
Part IV: This is obviously not ideal. Ideally, you could major in the thing you came to campus to do and spend most of your time on -- say 30 pass-fail credits available in it -- and the University could come to grips with the fact that many of the guys in this major need some remedial courses to get them up to speed. The important thing here, IMO, is to measure progress from a benchmark set when the player arrives on campus. Measure his academic ability when he arrives and when he leaves, compile an index and always strive to improve it.
I'm tired of living in this fairyland where universities have to lie and athletes have to struggle and fans have to close their eyes at the purported sausage factory; we should acknowledge the reality of the situation and just go about the business of doing it. We're here. We're sports teams inexplicably attached to institutions of learning that have drifted pretty far from their original intent anyway. Get used to it.
I'm already resigned to the fact that you will bash and denigrate Carty, and basically say one of the following:
* There's no problem with academics in the Athletic Department.
* Carty is a blowhard.
* Harbaugh doesn't know what he's talking about, and is a traitor to boot.
* Every big time school does it.
To me, it's all just self-justiification, and shows an inability on the part of many Blue fans to be honest with themselves about what's going on. It's a little bit like an alcoholic saying "I don't have a problem with drinking. I drink. I get drunk. I fall down. No problem . . . what's the big deal?"
The statement of Horton in the last segment rings true to me.  Blow off a session in the weight room, or with Rodriguez, or with Beilein, and see what happens. Blow off a class, and Acho and her gang will cover for you. The priority is on maintaining eligibility, and on sports teams winning. Whatever it takes to achieve this, do it.
However, I don't have a problem with
this. As long as colleges are functioning as an unofficial minor league, the academics will always be an afterthough. Whether it's Greg Oden, or Terry Mills, or Petway, or Gabe Watson, they'll jump through the right hoops to stay eligible, knowing that they're really just honing their skills for the pro leagues. We all know that's what is really happening, and I don't really have a problem with it. They don't care to get a degree, I don't care whether get one either. Just win, baby, and maybe bring home a National Title every ten years or so.
There are, however, two things that bug me.
1) I'm tired of Michigan homers bragging about our academics, and dissing USC, or OSU, or Florida, or FSU, or LSU, or even ND. I can't see that we're significantly different, at least in terms of Athletics and Academics. If we want to really be academic, we need to go the way of the Univ. of Chicago or Harvard or Princeton or even Northwestern. Either academics really matters for all students, or it doesn't. Sure, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that LSU and FSU are several notches below Michigan academically, both for athletes and across the board. But the differences with OSU and USC and ND and UT (Texas) are much smaller. I suspect that one of the reasons OSU gets to Michigan so much is because in many ways, we're so similar. Ok, for academics alone, Michigan is rated higher, but let's face it: both are the flagship state school in two loser rustbelt industrial states.
2) It bugs me that athletes who do have a brain are pushed away from actually getting a worthwhile degree. I used to like seeing that there were engineering students and pre-med and pre-law students among those on the football team. Those days seem to be over. Let's use Harbaugh as an example. Could he have studied history and succeeded? I believe so. Would he have been able to devote as much time to athletics? Undoubtedly not. But so what. I feel like saying to athletes interested in academics, go to Stanford. Go to Northwestern. Go to Princeton or Harvard. Don't come to Michigan, because you'll be shielded from the real student body, and from real profs, and real academic standards. You'll be pushed into 3 or 4 joke classes a term with joke grades so you can daydream and play video games on your laptop during those classes you attend, and focus on the REAL reason you're here: win baby, just win.
Nothing's gonna change, so why don't you just go back to covering sports. That's what most of us reader geeks are really interested in anyway.
Steve in the Chicago area
I don't know whether to be angry at Steve for obviously not reading anything I've written about this or happy that he's making virtually the same arguments. As for the bullets:
There's no problem with academics in the Athletic Department. The AA News turned up a few things that are obvious abuses and a systematic acknowledgment of a thing called "reality". There are some small problems and one action item: independent study by athletes should be severely curtailed.
Carty is a blowhard. I'm not sure why the entire Michigan internet is so pissed at Carty specifically when there are four names on all the stories and this is a big seven-month investigative push by the Ann Arbor News in general. He's part of it; I blame I Are Serious Editor more than Carty.
And, yeah, there's some blame. For seven months of investigation the Ann Arbor News had better get some mileage out of it, so they put their headlines in WAR-sized caps and spend an entire week when they had about a single story's worth of actual news. They also credulously accept assertions from other schools that they're shocked, shocked Michigan would do something like this. They misleadingly headline a piece "General studies uncommon at Michigan's 'peer' universities" in an article with a chart of majors that shows severe clustering at half the Big Ten schools and Notre Dame. Majors named "general studies" are indeed uncommon; majors with the same effect are universal. They refused to interview Mary Sue Coleman because she wanted to do it over email. They finish the article on the Ross Academic Center with a damning quote from a women's basketball player... who was at the U for one year six years ago.
How many positive quotes did they leave out? How can we be sure of the general tone of their conversations with former athletes? Why choose to, at every turn, emphasize detractors and the disgruntled? I'm about the worst judge available for this, but I'm not impressed by the standard of journalism in these pieces. There is a small story here spun out into a BIG STORY.
Harbaugh doesn't know what he's talking about and is a traitor to boot. Harbaugh does know what he's talking about but suggested Stanford doesn't do similar things (wrong) and sold out the university that got him into the NFL for some notoriety and a bit of a recruiting boost. So... yeah.
Every big time school does it. See above.
As to the things that bother: I am dead with you on #1. I do think that maybe Michigan is more concerned than many schools about actually having their kids go to their easy classes and do their easy assignments based solely on anecdotal evidence, but it's a matter of degree.
On #2: I sincerely doubt Harbaugh actually gave a crap about history; I think maybe he had a vague idea he'd be a history major because he liked history in high school and was quickly disabused of that notion when he got to Michigan. And Northwestern and Stanford shield their football players like mother hens, man.
As to the larger issue: when I got to Michigan I had a lot of AP credits* and thus could take some upper-level courses as a freshman. I visited my academic advisor with a plan to take something like 17 credits, including a 300-level biochem course. The advisor told me I was biting off more than I could chew and I should scale back. I scoffed, and blew through my first semester without problems, resolving that the advisor was a douchebag and not returning. My second semester I signed up for History of Africa after 1850, a 400-level CAAS class that fulfilled the U's race & ethnicity requirement. There was a guy in it who looked like he owned every Arrested Development bootleg out there; everyone in the class seemed about 35 and was angry. The first grade was halfway into the semester; I argued that Heart of Darkness was not a racist book no matter what Chinua Achebe said, provided some shiny happy people handholding towards the end, and got a C-. I'm pretty sure was the first C I'd seen on anything ever. I freaked.
Three days later I was the proud recipient of a W (for "withdrawn") on my transcript; the next semester I enrolled in Anthro 101, a class with multiple-choice scantron finals.
Moral: shielding is probably a good thing in most cases. And where it's not, the magic of Zoltan (a B-school enrollee) happens.
That said, you're right. It's bothersome that for 90% of football players a challenging major is completely unrealistic. I would like to see the NCAA institute a policy change that allows players one or two years of scholarship after their eligibility expires so guys like Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Ciulla can get whatever degree their academic ability allows. I don't see how it's realistic for Michigan to fix it on their own.
*(note to high schoolers planning on attending Michigan: take every AP class you can get your greasy mitts on, especi
ally physics. Unless something's changed recently, each is worth 4 or 5 credits or so -- physics is a whopping 10! -- and if you have 40-something you register with upperclassmen. Result: nothing you would reasonably want to take is ever full.)
Items of interest sent to me that don't require such a lengthy response:
My general reaction is that the NCAA tends to look for disparities in
how athletes and non-athletes are treated, and that the only hint of
disparity from Carty's article is that athletes were advised to enroll
in one particular professor's independent study section. There's no
evidence that, once enrolled, athletes were treated more favorably in
his section than the rest of the student population. I also don't
understand why it's surprising that advisers for the athletes would
favor enrolling them in one professor's section over another: if
athletes have been successful in his section before, enjoyed it,
and/or were able to enroll in it, why not try to enroll more of them
As for other criticisms levied at this prof: one of my labmates was
retroactively enrolled in an independent study course more than 12
months after the enrollment dates for which it appeared on his
transcript, and retroactively assigned a grade of satisfactory. That
is, he enrolled for it in 2008 but it appeared on his transcript for
2006. This type of thing happens all of the time, especially in
graduate programs. As an undergrad, it's a matter of meeting with
your advisor and getting their signature.
You're just as aware as I am that college is what you make of it.
Just as there are courses that don't require you to show up, do
reading, or even do any work in general other than the occasional easy
paper or exam (e.g. Astronomy 101/102, any American Culture class, any
of the Geology mini-courses) there are plenty of courses on the other
side that require much more than the estimated 4 hours per week *
credit hours (e.g. EECS 470). There's nothing in the Carty article to
suggest that athletes are being treated any differently than the
Another item that addresses the really late independent study add:
I disagree with your first point that adding IS midterm is by default, a scam. All I can relate is a personal experience.
I added IS midterm because I decided to withdraw from another course in which I was significantly struggling. I was accepted to every graduate school of my choice, turned down MIT, and was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, which is an extremely competitive award. Academic aptitude and work ethic weren't a problem.
I was failing a math class. I'm not a football player, quite obviously, so there is a distinction: I was overextending myself with physics classes and the most difficult math classes that served no purpose other than challenging myself. There is a big difference between failing rocks for jocks as a natural science requirement, and failing topology, an abstract math course that you take for nothing other than fun.
It was clear after midterms I was going to fail the course despite going to office hours every day and sitting in on another section taught by another instructor. The instructor told me as much. I dropped my most easy class before the drop date to make more time for this course. Rather than suffer a D+ in that class, and witness my grades in others go from the A level to low B's, I dropped the class, took the W, my grades went back to A's in my relevant classes, but because I had previously dropped the earlier class, I needed credits mid-term. I took IS. I didn't take it for 4 credits, it was 2, but I think I added March 1.
Nowhere in the article does it say they received 4 credits. For all we know, it was 1-2. Now I'd agree, every time a football player struggles, the answer isn't "take a W, and let's add an IS so you don't lose eligibility." But if those players only had 1-2 W's on their transcripts during their time at Michigan, it's not fraud. It would be fraud if the number of credits they received was more than the work they performed.
I am disappointed they sent those athletes to Professor Hagen. In my opinion, proper academic advisement would be "withdraw from the class, but we need to add a mini-course or independent study to keep your credits above 12. It is your job to find someone." If those advisers contacted Professor Hagan and said "we have a problem, these kids need to drop a class or they will lose eligibility, so can you take them on?" that is fraudulent. But if it only happened once or twice in their careers, and the work they did meets the standards of the academic department, it's a gray area, one that is unfortunate, but not necessarily wrong.
I personally know several other students who withdrew from classes and added IS mid-term -- them all in graduate school at top 10 institutions in their fields -- and the right decision in that situation is to withdraw. Then, your advisers need to ensure that the next semester, you are taking a balanced course load, are in the correct classes, and you have the resources so it doesn't happen again. But a one time midterm W and adding credits with IS does not equal fraud. It happens to common students too. Obviously, the reasons behind a student struggling will vary, and there is logarithmic separation between the difficulties of some classes. But with 100 people on the football roster, it doesn't strike me as odd for 1-2 to drop a class midterm and add an IS or mini-course last minute to boost their credits. I honestly feel they are receiving proper advisement in that situation as long as the work they do for their IS is commiserate with the professors (and thereby departments) expectations.
If those players were advised to do that so they'd maintain eligibility, is that any different than me deciding to have a W on my transcript and 3 A's rather than a D+ and 3 B's one semester because I wanted to go to graduate school?
Topology for fun! Jesus! John Blum frightens me.
And he is right, the AA news does not reveal the credits received by Riley and Watson. If it's two, then the late IS add might be reasonable. (Did they provide this information? No. Did they have it? Yes. Is there any reason to omit the number of credit hours? No. Does this bring the integrity of the reporting here into further question? Yes.) It is possible that nothing untoward happened here.
But this is a slope more slippery than Sam McGuffie. I know the school makes all sorts of allowances for kids who find themselves in academic trouble whether it's for not being able to spell "cat" or signing up for topology on a whim. Here, however, the university has a powerful incentive other than being nice to juggle schedules and the end result is very beneficial to the U. These situations are begging to be abused. This is not 'Nam, there are rules, and it looks very much like Michigan skirted them so a couple players would not be ineligible for the bowl game when they probably should have been. Michigan should have bit the bullet, put them in the Hagen class the following semester, and dealt with the consequences.
Caveat: I don't have the full story here and am going by appearances in a story designed to provide the appearance of wrongdoing. I acknowledge this could be a legitimate occurrence; Occam's razor suggests otherwise.
Greg Oden? Is that you? Tight end recruit Kevin Koger's Toledo Whitmer team made a run in the Ohio State playoffs but lost a few days ago. Condolences to Koger and all that but the real reason I mention it:
That is one superior old man beard going on right there. I so want him to keep it forever. Bigger version at the Blade's website.
Are these guys starfish or something? Mike Spath reports that Scooter Vaughn is a go this weekend and Matt Rust is going to try to skate today and might be available. Max Pacioretty is out after receiving a stupid game DQ for fighting on Saturday.
However, Operation No Stinking Badgers suffered a blow: Notre Dame's Eric Condra is out for the year. Condra is ND's top scorer by a wide margin with 38 points. Notre Dame has to get a split at the Joe to get in the tourney and keep Wisconsin out. Yost Built has been fiddling with YATC and says thusly:
Assuming Michigan and Miami win their semifinal games, the CCHA Consolation Game could be pretty huge for Michigan. If Notre Dame wins the third place game, Wisconsin is out and our game with Miami doesn't seem to matter in terms of the seeding. If Northern Michigan wins, we could fall to the #3 overall seed by losing to Miami and Wisconsin very possibly makes it in (depending on the ECAC and Hockey East results).
Youth movement. Michigan is #1; it is also the youngest team in the CCHA. A helpful UNO fan compiled a list:
Michigan State 21.33
Notre Dame 21.55
Ohio State 21.58
Northern Michigan 21.82
Lake Superior State 21.91
Ferris State 21.97
Western Michigan 22.05
Bowling Green 22.13
Alaska - Fairbanks 22.17
Second- and third-tier college hockey programs tend to recruit 20 and 21-year-old freshmen, something Michigan rarely does (Langlais was the only player more than a year out of high school in this large freshman class), but that's still remarkable: Michigan is almost a full year younger than any team in the conference. Even though the two seniors they'll lose are both amongst the best players in the country, Michigan could be even better next year. Hopefully Pacioretty -- on fire the past couple months -- and Mitera return.
Pryor. ... is deciding within the week and is...
''...down to two schools,'' Pryor said. ''I can't tell you which two.''
But, yeah, one is probably not Penn State:
Pryor didn't want to get into too many specifics when talking about Penn State. He mentioned that he looks at the environment as ''country'' and that he felt comfortable with his knowledge of the program through his numerous unofficial visits over the years.
I haven't seen anyone say anything other than Pryor to OSU; usually these words are accompanied by other words claiming that anyone else would "shock," "cause widespread devastation," or "bring about seven plagues, the likes of which have been heretofore unseen by man."
So, yeah, don't get your hopes up.
Eeee, oooo, eeee. Excellent interview in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud, and other players departing from West Virginia. Eeee Barwis:
FINDER: Who all went to Michigan to work with former West Virginia strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis?
RIVERS: Antonio [Lewis] and I went up there for about a month. Last week, Owen [Schmitt] and Ryan Mundy got there. They got a nice setup. Spent a lot of money.
SLATON: I'm going up there. I don't know when. See what my schedule is, who else calls.
Not to pile on Gittleson too hard, but this is night and day from Michigan's experience. At Michigan, as soon as you sign with an agent and get some money you head for one of those specialized NFL prep workout camps in Florida or whatever. These guys are following Barwis wherever he goes. Eeee.
This quote got a lot of play:
FINDER: Did the coaches up at Michigan talk to you guys about what was happening back at West Virginia, with all the fan reaction?
RIVERS: They really don't care. They're up there. [After selling their Morgantown houses and moving their families], they're not trying to get their [butts] shot at here in West Virginia.
His players don't harbor any animosity:
FINDER: Were you surprised by the fans' reaction over Coach [Rich] Rodriguez leaving and the buyout, lawsuit and everything?
REYNAUD: It did surprise me a little bit, but it's a business, man.
SLATON: You figured it would happen. But I think they should be happy for him. He's from West Virginia and he can make his mark at Michigan better and maybe one day be in the coaching Hall of Fame. I'm happy for him 'cause he gave me a chance to play running back when a lot of teams wouldn't have given me the chance.
REYNAUD: Did I have any anger about Coach Rod [leaving]? I never did. [The fans] took it the worst. After that victory in the bowl game, who cares?
And, of course, you stay classy, Morgantown:
FINDER: If you can change anything over the past three and a half months, what would it be? The outcome of the Pitt game? Coach Rod leaving?.Something else? . . .
REYNAUD: If Coach Rod had left for Michigan before that game, it still would be that game [they'd want to change].
RIVERS: I was right behind him coming into the locker room after that game. It was horrible ..., especially when he turned this thing around. '[Screw] you, Rodriguez.' 'Thanks a lot, Rod.'
REYNAUD: (chuckling) Yeah, I heard that: 'Thanks a lot, Rod.' ":
SLATON: Look what he brought to the program, too.
Who would want to leave that?
What Touchdown Jesus? Dana Jacobsen interviews Rich Rodriguez. I know you're waiting for the f-bombs, but sorry:
Etc.: More Eeee, Barwi
s from ESPN, Zack Novak article from the Tribune, Darryl Stonum, rumored to be the recipient of the #1 jersey, is wearing #22 at spring practice, the Hoover Street rag has hilarious, sad numbers comparing hockey and basketball.
The list. Baylor, Clemson, and Kansas State have all made the basketball tournament. What relevance does this have for Michigan basketball fans? Each of those teams was sporting a tourney drought of equal or greater length than Michigan, which cuts down The List. What is The List? An assemblage of ever-dwindling big conference (BE, P10, B10, SEC, ACC) teams with tourney droughts comparable to Michigan's. The new edition:
Florida State: 1998
South Florida: 1992
Oregon State: 1990
Six of 73.
Hockey. Last weekend couldn't have gone any better from the Michigan perspective. Most importantly, Michigan swept UNO. Bonuses from around the country:
- UND won its series against Tech but took three games to do it, dropping them from the #1 spot in the PWR and staking Michigan to a lead of what looks like a full game in the RPI.
- Wisconsin got swept and Clarkson lost its first round series, guaranteeing that a third autobid outside the top 16 spots gets in. Upshot: the Badgers are now the first team out of the tournament.
- State lost to Northern, removing the one team in the CCHA Michigan had a losing record against and providing Michigan an easier opponent for their game Friday.
- Notre Dame rose from the dead and is now in the tourney. (This last one is not so much a positive for Michigan, but it's good for the CCHA and everyone's sense of cosmic justice.)
Air Force and Niagara won their conference tourneys and autobids.
I haven't had time to check the nitty-gritty of the PWR, but some weird stuff went on. Miami leapt up to the #2 overall seed and Colorado College dropped to #4 despite CC's sweep of Alaska-Anchorage; I think this is because Michigan Tech's win against NoDak propelled them into the top 25 of the RPI, which makes them a TUC and brings CC's 0-1-1 record against them into play. Ferris also dropped from TUC status, removing their sweep of Miami from Super Special Consideration. It's all very complicated.
This week's completely useless bracket construction:
16. Air Force
9. Michigan State
7. Boston College
14. Minnesota State
13. ECAC Autobid
5. North Dakota
12. Notre Dame
(as always, this is as sturdy as a lean-to in a hurricane and was a waste of my time.)
The committee is not compelled to break first round all-WCHA matchups since they have six teams in the tourney, but they could swap Minnesota and Clarkson if they wanted and maybe the ECAC autobid with Minnesota State. Neither would hurt bracket integrity or attendance much, so I've made the switches above.
Could State please GTF out of our regional? No, probably not, since they're done for the year.
So, about this weekend. Since none of the chasers have imploded, Michigan hasn't locked up much. Michigan currently wins all comparisons but can lose out to Miami, CC, and North Dakota. Scenarios:
- Win the CCHA. The only team that could pass Michigan would be a WCHA-winning CC. Michigan would get a small conference autobid in Wisconsin-free Madison, which is excellent.
- Get swept. Much depends on the outcome of the other two games, but I think M loses at least two more comparisons and falls behind either North Dakota or Miami, which would allow one of those teams to head to Madison. Michigan would get shipped East as the #4 or #5 seed and probably have to deal with a high quality. Second round opponent. Bad news.
- Split. Almost as bad, I think. Miami would pass us if they won the league and one of the two WCHA teams would also; probably both. Would be a cluster of teams tied atop the standings (UNH complicates everything) and Michigan could go anywhere.
It's delightfully simple and mmmm caketastic if they win the CCHA; if not Michigan could get a relatively nasty draw.
Michigan plays Northern at 4:30 Friday; Miami and Notre Dame is the other semifinal.
Update: readers email to note that the M gametime has been changed to 8:05; it is so. Also, You Are The Committee is up at CHN if you feel like fiddling around with the the last weekend's results. I'm trying to figure out if Wisconsin can still get in... unfortunately the answer appears to be yes if all top seeds hold and ND loses two at the Joe. We really want ND to win at least one; the nice thing is that if we end up facing them they've already downed Miami and will be a tourney lock.
Editor's note: Originally published in August, 2007.
Editor's note: The Notre Dame numbers were disputed by some ND readers; ND's site lists two majors for everyone or a major-minor pair or something; it was confusing and I just ticked down a bunch of majors; I wouldn't take the assertions of grouping below seriously. Suffice it to say that guys with 6th to 8th grade reading levels apparently average a 3.5 at ND; they're probably not taking astrophysics.
I'm sure you've all seen this by now: Pat Forde got ahold of Jim Harbaugh, who continues to cram his foot in his mouth so far that his testicles are grumbling about the new neighbors, about this whole academics thing. In the article Forde is shocked, shocked(!) to find out that shepherding is going on at Michigan. He strokes a beard he does not have thoughtfully and comes to conclusions that show deep concern for the welfare of student athletes. He credulously accepts this outrageous statement from Harbaugh...
"I learned from a great man named Bo Schembechler that you speak the truth as you know it. It may not be the popular thing, but you speak your mind. Everything I said is supported by fact, but the thing that has come back is the personal attack on me, not looking at the issue whatsoever." The most bothersome personal attack to Harbaugh came from Hart. Even more bothersome was the fact that nobody within the Michigan hierarchy has publicly reined in Hart for blasting a well-decorated alum.
"Mike Hart is just repeating their messages," Harbaugh said. "When I was a player, there would have been nobody saying anything like what Mike Hart said about me. We would have been too afraid of the consequences. That wouldn't have happened while Bo was there. I'm glad as the head coach of Stanford I don't have to deal with those repercussions."
...without stopping even to mention that the very person Harbaugh's throwing under the bus is that "great man" and to say that Mike Hart wouldn't have said the things he did if Bo was around when his weak response to Jamie Morris claiming the same thing of him was "that's not the point." It's awful and self-contradictory and the work of a man just trying to get some Serious Issues brownie points. (Braves & Birds eloquently presents these arguments, btw.)
Harbaugh is right about one thing: if Bo was around, Hart wouldn't have said those things. But that's because Bo would have said them after turning Harbaugh's larynx into goo with the power of his mind. And yet he persists:
"Everything I said," Harbaugh told me this week, "is supported by fact."
No, Jim, it isn't. You're full of crap.
One of the things that makes (most) college football fans deeply uncomfortable is the increasing implausibility of calling the athletes they revere "student-athletes" in an era when enormous men whose applications would have been laughed out of the admissions office had they been sized like normal humans spend 40+ hours a week on football virtually year-round, taking classes like "History of Rock and Roll," or "AIDS Awareness" or "Golf," to use several unfairly OSU-exclusive examples, solely because said classes will allow them to participate in their chosen sport with a minimum of what can only be said to be extracurricular fuss.
It's this inversion of "extracurricular" that bothers people. Whereas once manly men who are men occasionally deigned to travel around the country beating other manly man men's heads in whilst catching up on their Proust, today a bunch of lunkheads with no business in college are exploited for their cheap labor and then cast aside without any hope of employment because their educations were a sham. Yea, truly we have made our collegiate athletics programs dens of iniquity, striving for the unholy dollar at the expense of these men's future.
I don't swear much on this blog, but I have one word for this. It follows in its own paragraph for MAXIMUM EMPHASIS.
Oh, that felt nice. I'm going to continue. Fucking ridiculous, facile, idiotic bullshit, the exact kind of balderdash fronted by people who willingly fail to notice that the American university experience has changed so radically that 20% of my high school's graduating class, including several people I would be surprised to find out could change a light bulb, ended up at Michigan because it serves their hopelessly outdated and idealistic view of the world.
I find the lazy, stupid athlete stereotype irritating, and always have. Is intelligence a simple vector that you have or do not? I have always been very, very "smart" and felt that I got far too much credit for an aptitude for standardized tests and memorization when I knew that the guys truly marked for success didn't have truculent attitudes towards people that were slightly different from them. There is a certain sort of social aptitude that I lack that, a particular sort of empathy and intelligence far more important in the world than the ability to sort out the Pythagorean theorem in no time flat, but how do you measure that? I'll tell you: find my salary and that of class president Tom O'Neill, a man the entire world liked, in ten years and get back to me. I'll lose. So who's to say that Mario Manningham isn't "smart"? I've watched him perfectly set up cornerbacks time and again, burning them deep when they know what's coming. Even if Manningham couldn't spell his own name -- something I am not asserting is true, for the record -- he would still be a particular sort of genius.
I mean, Jim Harbaugh has to be some sort of verbal moron but he's still in the 99.9th percentile when it comes to being a quarterback. In one particular aspect of his life, Jim Harbaugh is indisputably brilliant. We shouldn't look down on him just because there are six-year-olds with a better sense of what an appropriate public discourse is.
This is my point: the sort of people who end up successfully completing four or five years in a major collegiate athletic program are probably marked for success even if their major is the easiest available. There is academic research that backs this up. Via Malcolm Gladwell:
In the 2001 book "The Game of Life," James L. Shulman and William Bowen (a former president of Princeton) conducted an enormous statistical analysis on an issue that has become one of the most contentious in admissions: the special preferences given to recruited athletes at selective universities.
Athletes, Shulman and Bowen demonstrate, have a large and growing advantage in admission over everyone else. At the same time, they have markedly lower G.P.A.s and S.A.T. scores than their peers. Over the past twenty years, their class rankings have steadily dropped, and they tend to segregate themselves in an "athletic culture" different from the culture of the rest of the college. Shulman and Bowen think the preference given to athletes by the Ivy League is shameful. Halfway through the book, however, Shulman and Bowen present what they call a “surprising” finding. Male athletes, despite their lower S.A.T. scores and grades, and despite the fact that many of them are members of minorities and come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, turn out to earn a lot more than their peers. Apparently, athletes are far more likely to go into the high-paying financial-services sector, where they succeed because of their personality and psychological makeup. In what can only be described as a textbook example of burying the lead, Bowen and Shulman write:
One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive—a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time—to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams).
Shulman and Bowen would like to argue that the attitudes of selective colleges toward athletes are a perversion of the ideals of American élite education, but that's because they misrepresent the actual ideals of American élite education. The Ivy League is perfectly happy to accept, among others, the kind of student who makes a lot of money after graduation. As the old saying goes, the definition of a well-rounded Yale graduate is someone who can roll all the way from New Haven to Wall Street.
(You must listen to a man who is smart enough to spell "elite" with an accent mark.)
The greatest asset Michigan football players have is their status as Michigan football players. This is true when they are being guided through college and afterwards. The values imparted by the ruthlessly competitive but outgoing and collegial environment surrounding a big time football program are far more useful in one's effort to find a well-paying career than any honors humanities degree you care to name. And the primary role the modern university is to take money from undergraduates in exchange for the ability to get a well-paid job.
So, no, Jim Harbaugh isn't wrong when he says Michigan takes football players who would otherwise not be accepted and shepherds them through majors that are not particularly challenging. No one denies this, but there is a difference between not denying an obvious, universal, and (most importantly) non-harmful tactic that helps a disproportionately minority and poor group of people into the middle class and not denying that Michigan is selling these kids out because they don't care.
One of the frequently useful posters on Michigan message boards summarized a retrospective on the 1997 national championship team that appeared in The Wolverine's season preview magazine. It's not comprehensive but it does provide a significant indication that Harbaugh's assertion that "the people that adulated them won't hire them" is completely off base:
The Wolverine 2007 preview magazine did an article on the ten year anniversary of the 1997 co-national championship team. They profiled some of the players, and here's some of the results:
Zach Adami (C) - I looked at mgoblue.com to find his major, but they didn't have a profile for him. Adami is a trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading options on the Eurodollar. He's aslo a partner in a small company, Redrock Capital Management, with former U-M linebacker Dave Dobress and several others.
Jeff Backus (OT) - General Studies major per mgoblue.com and starting O-lineman on the Detroit Lions.
Kraig Baker (PK) - Sports Management and Communications. He's an account executive for Management Recruiters International, based in Chicago. He's also worked for a manufacturing company in Indiana, managed a restaurant in Virginia Beach and played some Arena Football.
Dave Brandt (OL) - School of Education - majored in Elementary Education. Played 3 years in the NFL. Says he's a stay at home dad.
Kevin Bryant (WR) - General Studies. He owns his own company, KB Solutions of Detroit, which privdes a variety of electrical services.
Mark Campbell (TE) - Movement Science. In his ninth season in the NFL.
Clint Copenhaver (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Sales representative for sporting goods giant Mizuno--covers state of Michigan for the company.
Scott Driesbach (QB) - Physical Education. Playing football with the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League.
Juaquin Feazell (LB) - Psychology. Works as a medical malpriatice attorney in Georgia for the firm Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover. Received his law degree at Georgia State ans has been practicing law for four years.
Jay Feely (PK) - Physical Education. NFL with the Falcons, Giants and Dolphins.
Chris Floyd (FB) - Mgoblue.com doesn't have a profile for him. Floyd played in the NFL for three season. He then worked for six years with Michigan's S&C staff. Now teaches at Westside Christian Academy and works with Farrell Sports Concepts.
Steve Frazier (C) - General Studies. He's a commercial airlines pilot for American Eagle Airlines.
Ian Gold (LB) - Political Science. Seven years in NFL with Denver and Tampa Bay.
Brian Griese (QB) - Griese majored in Environmental Policy--I believe he got permission to design his degree from LS&A. Tenth year in NFL.
James Hall (DE) - Sports Management & Communications. Played with the NFL since college--Lions & St. Louis.
Tommy Hendricks (S) - General Studies. NFL through 2004.
Jeff Holtry (LB) - No major listed on the roster. Worked at Abbott Labs in Ann Arbor. Now serves as an orthopedic equipment representative for Stryker Corporation.
Chris Howard (RB) - No major listed on mgoblue roster. Just says he spent a few seasons in the NFL.
Steve Hutchinson (OL) - General Studies. NFL pro-bowler for two teams.
Jon Jansen (OL) - Physical Education major. NFL career with Washington Redskins.
Diaollo Johnson (S) - Sports Management and Communications. Works in real estate in Detroit.
Dhani Jones (LB) - It just says he was in the Residential College. Has played in NFL through 2006.
Marcus Knight (WR) - Computer Science. Plays with Columbus Destroyers in Arena Football League.
Eric Mayes (LB) - Earned his master's degree in educational technology in 2000. Completed PhD program in educational physicology at Howard University. Serves as an adjucnt professor at Howard and is Dean of Students at an elementary school in Washington, DC.
DeWayne Patmon (S) - Sports Management and Communications. Played two years in NFL. Lives in San Diego and has done a bit of acting.
Marcus Ray (S) - General Studies. Social worker in Columbus, Ohio school system. Will be moving to Ann Arbor to become graduate assistant for Wolverines. Coached football for several seasons at Ohio Dominican.
Rob Renes (DL) - Secondary Education major. Brief career in NFL due to injury. Teaches at middle school in Muskegon and is finishing master's degree in educational leadership at Western Michigan this summer. Looking to be a school principal or athletic director.
Russell Shaw (WR) - No link to profile on roster. He's currently playing in the Arena Football League.
Aaron Shea (TE) - Sports Management and Communications. He's played in the NFL since college.
Chris Singletary (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Currently Michigan's recruiting coordinator. He spent seven years at International Management Group.
Glen Steele (DL) - No profile listed on roster. NFL career. Currently graduate assistant at Michigan.
Tai Streets (WR) - Sports Management and Communications. Long career in NFL, now teacher and coach back in Illinois (high school, I assume).
Rob Swett (LB) - No profile listed on roster. Owns his own home building company in Austin, Texas. Here's a quote from him: "My career at Michigan, and that year, helped define part of who I am. The success I've had in my life can be attributed to that season and learning what it takes to be a winner."
Sam Sword (LB) - Sports Management and Communications. Spent some time coaching. He lives in Florida and works in the city's recreation and parks department.
Daydrion Taylor (S) - Doesn't list his major, but does say he was in Kiniesology. Returned to Texas and is teaching high school, coaching track and the secondary on the football team.
Anthony Thomas (RB) - Sports Management and Communications. NFL career with Bears and Bills.
Jerame Tuman (TE) - Movement Science. Still in NFL.
Jason Vinson (P) - Biology. Pharmacist at hospital in Memphis, TN and professor at University of Tennessee pharmacy school.
Andre Weathers (CB) - Industrial Engineering. Plsyed pro football for a few year. Currently working as an industrial engineer and coaches defensive backs at Flint Central High School.
James Whitley (CB) - Sports Management & Communications. 3 seasons in the NFL. Doesn't say what he's doing now.
Josh Williams (DT) - Psychology. Just finished his NFL career. Currently involved in building and developing homes.
Eric Wilson (DT) - Sports Management and Communications. He's played football in Florida and Canada with the CFL. Owns a succesful cigar lounge in FL.
Charles Woodson (CB) - Sports Management and Communications. Still playing in NFL.
Chris Ziemann (OL) - Sports Management & Communications. Had a short career in NFL. Works in sales for Cintas in Florida.
Note a distinct lack of homeless crack addicts. (Again... not definitive, but far more evidence than Harbaugh has ever marshaled for his preposterous assertions. Hell, I have more evidence that Harbaugh is not a nice person at all than he has evidence Michigan abandons its ex-players.)
"I see how it's done now at Stanford, and I see no reason to believe it can't be the same there."
Incidentally, portraying Harbaugh as some sort of noble crusader is preposterous. If he had such deep concern for the fates of Michigan student-athletes, why is it only now, when he is attempting to frame Stanford as a city on a hill for D-I athletes, that his concerns come forth? Besides, Harbaugh's full of shit. Yost Built has a terrific survey of the declared majors on Stanford's football team, which look mighty suspicious:
Science Technology & Society: 9
Management Science & Engineering: 7
Poly Sci: 5
Public Policy: 4
Computer Sci: 2
Intl Relations: 1
Yost Built points out that 15.5% of declared football majors are in communications versus 1% of the university at large and this "STS" thing is even better:
So now about that random degree that almost nobody in the school majors in, but a disproportionate amount of football players do....at Michigan it's General Studies. At Stanford, I believe it's called Science Technology & Society. According to the Stanford STS website, there are 58 STS majors in the school. 58. That works out to .9% of the 6,400 undergrads. Want to know how many football players major in it? 9. Or 15.5% of the entire major (which dwarfs the Michigan team making up roughly 10% of General Studies).
I can add a little something to Yost Built's post. A peek at STS shows that it's an interdisciplinary field that requires a certain small set of base requirements, and then this:
# Technical Literacy: A specified computer science course and a four-course sequence in a field of science, engineering, or mathematical sciences in which a B.A. major obtains basic knowledge of some concepts, principles and methods of science, engineering, or mathematics. Faculty in various technical disciplines are available to advise and sign off on this major component.
# Thematic Concentration: A sequence of courses through which a B.A. major acquires more in-depth knowledge of and progressive competence in a particular STS issue, problem, or area of personal interest. The following Thematic Concentrations are pre-certified (students can also design their own concentration):
3. History and Philosophy
4. Information and Society
5. Public Policy
6. Social Change
7. Work and Organizations
Faculty in various disciplines are available to advise and sign off on this major component.
Emphasis mine, because it emphasizes that this is a design-your-own-major thing that is just ripe for exploitation. Hey... you know what that sounds like? General Studies! Mouthy football coach unaware of the consequences of his speech, heal thyself. Stanford shovels its football players into majors just like everyone else, and the most popular degree on the team is a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
There is no difference between Michigan and anyone else on this issue. Penn State and Notre Dame both have reputations for being very serious about their academics for football programs that aspire to something higher than being Rice, but even these two schools cluster kids like mad. A survey of Penn State's majors lifted from Anison on the Wolverine.com's message boards:
Total = 86
Declared Majors = 40
Kinesiology = 10
Parks Recreation & Tourism Mgmt = 10
Labor & Industrial Relations = 4
Crime, Law and Justice = 3
Finance = 3
Economics = 2
Mechanical Engin = 2
Marketing = 2
Rehabilitation Svcs = 1
Psychology = 1
Environment Systems Engin = 1
Letters, Arts & Sciences = 1
Management = 1
Advertising & PR = 1
Half of PSU declared majors are in Kinesiology or Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management. I went over to Notre Dame's website and surveyed their announced majors:
Film, Television, And Theater: 5
Mechanical Engineering: 3
One each: American Studies, Math, Poli Sci, Bio, Psych.
The Math, Bio, Poli Sci, and American culture majors, along with two of the MEs and two of the History majors, are walk-ons. Bolded majors are in the Mendoza School of business; 14 others are enrolled in that school but have not declared majors. With freshmen all enrolled in "first year studies," this means that about half the team is in the Mendoza School of business. To be fair, Mendoza is a large school that comprises about 18% of the undergraduate population at Notre Dame, but a randomly selected football player is three times more likely to be enrolled in Mendoza than a non-football player. There's also ND football players' inexplicable love of sociology to grapple with, and even amongst obvious joke majors "Film, Television and Theater" stands out as a particularly embarrassing thing to have on a degree. All told, there are four declared majors at ND that are not one of these three things. Maybe Michigan's big problem is that it didn't name "General Studies" the "Rocket Science, Law-Talkin', And Doctor-Bein'" degree.
And you know what? On average, these players from Penn State and Notre Dame and Michigan and Stanford will have happy, successful lives -- remember the Gladwell -- largely thanks to the socialization and opportunity football gave them. Forcing guys whose skills lie in something other than the narrow concept of intelligence that gets you through scan-tron tests and essays through the same doors as those selected for those skills will inevitably cause many more of them to flunk out and lose that opportunity to have a better life, all in the service of maintaining the worthless fiction that football players are students first.
What Harbaugh proposes harms everyone but himself; sadly, it's become obvious we can expect no better from this man.
So... what? The last post was a dump of the various things I've heard/experienced that influence my opinion. There are some other things -- a varsity-jacket clad cadre of large men in my Astro 111 course, my Anthro 101 course, Scott Matzka (hockey player, good shorthanded) posting stuff to the EECS 380 usenet group -- but it's just more of the same.
This is the equation we've set up in all varsity sports to some degree or another:
Large Group of Academically Underqualified Persons +
40-hour-per-week year-round commitment +
Grad rates at or above the University average =
Solve for X, and you get the kind of stuff detailed recently by the Ann Arbor News.
I mean, duh. The only group of people dumb enough to believe you can take star athletes whose uninspiring high school GPAs are almost entirely fraudulent already, give them a full time job, and then get those star athletes to graduate without hijinks are dickwad Notre Dame fans driven mad by their program's 15 years of total irrelevancy. And, apparently, some but not all Penn State fans.
The Ann Arbor News knows this, of course, and knows that a similar examination of any program in the country would turn an equal or greater level of academic offense. So the editor puts on his I Are Serious Cat face and rumbles about "perception" and "reality" and how Michigan believes that it is better than everyone and isn't this troubling, isn't it? And we get sidebars about how poor Brent Petway couldn't get into the music school when he discovered its existence... two years into his time on campus. Thanks a million, AANews.
This was going to be a big long article about the place of the athlete in the modern university; in it I would link the piece I wrote last summer when Jim Harbaugh was shooting his mouth off about the general studies program and the like, but when I re-read it I realized I didn't have to or want to change it, so I'm going to bump it to the front page here in a few minutes.
The executive summary:
- Athletes work harder than just about anyone at a university.
- There is a giant sports entertainment industry in this country.
- There are many not so bright people at the U getting undergraduate degrees in deliberately unchallenging majors; the intent of research 1 universities is to shovel a ton of students through cheaply and use their tuition to build particle accelerators.
- We should stop pretending that something as hugely important to so many people as sports are can't be a valid field of study.
To this, I'd to add... This is the powerpoint summary of Michael Oher's life:
- Born in inner-city Memphis to a single mother with several other children by another father; will eventually be one of ten siblings all living under one roof.
- 0-7: lives with mother, a drug addict who is nice enough but provides zero in the way of guidance or support and disappears for ten days at a time when money is available.
- One day when he's 7: Social Services gets wise and comes to yank the kids into foster care. The boys run, but are eventually tracked down.
- 8-10: alternately lives in foster home run by ludicrously fat woman named Velma who keeps kids in line by sitting them and spends time on the streets when the Velma-home is too much for him. Momentarily hospitalized for psychological evaluation; escapes. During this period of time goes to school mostly because they have free food. Exists as a sort of child hobo.
- 10-15: reunites with mother in hopelessly dystopian, lawless inner-city Memphis project. Does not go to school, ever. Decides he would like to be Michael Jordan. Becomes freakin' enormous. Technically spends a year at high school, ish.
- 16: Driven to Briarcrest Christian Academy by local do-gooder "Big Tony" in the hopes that he and Big Tony's son can attend the school because they're athletes. Oher, at this point, is itinerant, sleeping on whatever floor or couch seems most accessible that night.
- 16-18: Virtually, then actually adopted by Sean Tuohy, a now-wealthy former Ole Miss point guard, given home to exist in. Expensively tutored nonstop for three straight years.
- College: "Dean's List" at Ole Miss, all SEC.
When Oher dipped his toe into the NFL draft waters this January he found he would be a late first round or second round pick and, thus, a millionaire. Envisioning Oher's life without academic fraud is left as an unpleasant exercise to the reader.
Who is served by academic ineligiblity and drop-out players? Not the school, not the player, and not the NFL. There must be some level of academic effort; most of these kids will not become pro players and will have to find jobs. Most of them also have little business being in college proper, which is not surprising since they were selected for other reasons.
College football has conspired with the NFL to become the sole feeder system for an immensely lucrative industry. College football itself makes millions from the efforts of undercompensated individuals who would otherwise never attend college. It therefore has many responsibilities to those individuals, who it has trapped in a hypocritical system. One of these responsibilities is to, within reason, ease their academic passage so that they can attempt to use their standout skill to make a living. Michigan is doing this, and though I described the Watson and Riley one-month, four credits B+ as a "scam," it's a upright scam. The whole system is a scam that declares by fiat that this incredibly taxing mental and physical effort is worthy of no credit while Astro 111 -- which, Ann Arbor News, I am delighted to report that I spent approximately one hour a week on outside of class -- is.
This is Theron Wilson now; I stumbled across his MySpace page and a few other things when I was trying to remember the details of his life.
I have no real idea how he's doing. He played overseas for a few years after the UPS stint. He's got a suit. He details a lot of failed business ventures and frustrations in the real estate market and appears to be attempting to enlist the reader in some sort of get-rich-online scheme of dubious value. He says he's in marketing, says he's got a college degree, says he's got a kid. I think he's doing ok.
Did college do him good? I kinda suspect he struggled through EMU with a lot of easy classes and maybe a smattering of academic fraud -- non qualifier, remember -- and got a degree of some sort. Was it helpful? Where would he be if the skids were not greased? At some point do you stop hanging on, and where do you go then?
Data. Data. Data. Data.
Data: This is a scam. There are a great number of things detailed in the Ann Arbor News article that are questionable and few that are anything more, but this is a scam:
Hagen set up independent study courses for two Michigan football players with just more than a month remaining in a semester. Rueben Riley and Gabe Watson dropped other classes and enrolled in an independent study course with Hagen on March 18, 2005.
Sucking a kid into an independent study with a month to go in the semester and then lobbing four B+ credits at Gabe Watson for writing a single twelve page paper that probably says "FEED ME SO HUNGRY WANT PORK CHOP" on at least six of those pages is something close to academic fraud. The university protests "this isn't Auburn" at one juncture in the article, but on the academic integrity continuum that extends from Vanderbilt on one end to Auburn on the other, that's a lot closer to Auburn.
Michigan is systematically funneling kids at risk of losing their eligibility into independent study courses of questionable content, and will in extreme cases fob some credits at players for four weeks of work in a 15 week semester. The Ann Arbor News establishes that.
Data: Mr. Bancroft, one of my history teachers in high school, was an odd bird, an elderly bald man with wild eyes and tattered ideals prone to grandiose pronouncements and strong opinions. A small but hopefully telling indicator: most people just called him "Bancroft," even his students. Though he was naturally drawn to athletes, when the Quiz Bowl team â€“ yrs truly a member, natch â€“ needed a damn fool to drive us to Washington DC and be our chaperon so we could go about .500, eke into the single-elimination rounds, and get crushed by that goddamn Virginia magnet school, he volunteered. He was a nice guy.
When you are in a van for ten hours you naturally get to talking about various topics, and the subject of Theron Wilson came up during various debates. I don't remember why. But I do remember what Mr. Bancroft said.
Theron was a black kid from Detroit that Bancroft somehow had stumbled across â€“ how was never explained â€“ and kinda sorta taken in for a couple years. Theron was six foot eight. He was also a prop 48, ineligible to play as a freshman. He was the center on the inexplicably great Eastern Michigan teams featuring Earl Boykins. When the Eagles beat Duke in 1996, he had five blocks. A few months later he was selected in the draft, but the wrong draft: Theron was the La Crosse Bobcats' third round selection in the 1996 CBA draft.
A year later, we drove to Washington DC to play the white and Asian kids of Thomas Jefferson, that damn Virginia magnet school, and Theron Smith was driving a UPS truck. "I don't know," said Bancroft. "He's just hanging on."
Data: Michael Oher, star of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side. For the purposes of our conversation, the heart of the book has to do with Michael Oher's schooling, or lack thereof. For a variety of tragic (and probably sadly common) reasons, Oher mostly attends school when he feels like taking advantage of the free lunches provided. From ten to fifteen, Oher lives a virtually feral existence in a little slice of Somalia mysteriously transported into downtown Memphis. He decides he will be Michael Jordan, and he does not go to school, ever. After a quasi-year at a downtown Memphis quasi-high school, Oher is taken out to Briarcrest Academy, a Christian school in the white section of Memphis by a guy named "Big Tony"; Briarcrest hems and haws and decides that the Christian thing to do is have an enormous black guy play on the basketball team.
Oher eventually falls in with a Briarcrest supporter named Sean Tuohy, a former Ole Miss point guard turned rich white guy. The Tuohy family ends up adopting him, and Oher ends up commiting to Ole Miss February of his senior year of high school. Despite three years of nonstop private tutoring, Oher needs a telescope to see the grade point and test score combination the NCAA requires.
At this point, Tuohy spends a lot of money and time tracking down ways to fraud â€“ there's really no other way to put, it â€“ Michael Oher into Ole Miss, striking upon two separate gold mines: a friendly psychiatric clinic that gets Oher declared "learning disabled" mostly because he has an average IQ but hasn't learned anything yet, which allows Oher unlimited, guided, untimed attempts at standardized tests, and a series of "courses" BYU should be ashamed they offer: ten-day remote equivalency courses during which he has to read about famous personages and answer five questions about them. Each set of five questions cleared allows Oher to replace a semester of F with one of A.
Oher qualifies, and starts his freshman year at Ole Miss.
Michael Oher is a very large learning disabled man with approximately three years of actual schooling and a fraudulent academic transcript and Michael Lewis writes this about him in his afterword:
IN THE SEASON AFTER this book's publication Michael Oher started every game as Ole Miss's left tackle. The Ole miss football team was so consistently inept it was hard to believe anyone on it could be any good, but Michael's play landed him on the All-SEC second team, while his grade point average (3.75) landed him, for a semester, on the University of Mississippi Dean's list. (He was honored at halftime during one Ole Miss basketball game for his schoolwork.
#$*#! I didn't carry a 3.75. I knew I should have spent my middle school years roving around inner city projects trying not to get shot.
Data: erstwhile Michigan running back Max Martin, a native Michigander who moved to Alabama for the last few years of his high school career, got in trouble a lot, and it started early. When Michigan checked up on Martin's progress for the first time, they found that Martin hadn't gone to any of his classes. He told the curious coaches that he didn't know he had to go; none the kids he knew at SEC schools had to.
After a couple seasons of fumbling and off-field transgressions, Martin transferred to Alabama. Their coaches' character check was this: "is he in trouble with the law?" At that moment, he was not.
Martin lasted one semester in Tuscaloosa.
Data: I have a friend who is getting her PhD in a humanities field and, as such, spends much time being the best GSI any of her students will ever come across. She is deeply conflicted about the presence and purpose of athletes in her classes and across the university in general, and has presented the following pieces of information in our discussion on the subject.
- When she was the GSI for a large lecture class, two football players three times her size were amongst her students. She was momentarily terrified of having authority issues, envisioning a future wherein the large recalcitrant men set a defiant example for the rest of the class, until she started talking and the two enormous guys were the first in the class to begin dutifully transcribing notes. Both were sweethearts, she says, and passed the class legitimately.
- The professor running this class has a reputation for checking up on the progress of athletes in his classes and pullin
g those who are struggling into... yep... independent study classes.
- Multiple times during the semester, athletic department representatives would drop by the class to make sure the enormous men were where their class schedules promised they would be.
Another semester, she was teaching freshman comp and had a men's swimmer fresh from high school, who struggled badly. At one point he tearfully confessed that he was overwhelmed. Practice was hard. School was hard. Travel was hard. Everything was hard, so hard, and he couldn't just quit one or the other and what was he going to do?
Data. Football takes lots of time:
Division I-A football players reported spending an average of 44.8 hours per week on their sport. That doesn't include the hours involved in taking care of their academic responsibilities.
Any school other than Duke or Vandy or Stanford will take any player who meets NCAA minimums that, on a non-athlete application, would be laughed out of the admissions office, and Duke and Vandy and Stanford (and the Ivy leagues) all bend their admissions standards severely. The NCAA has instituted punishments for schools that do not keep their players in school and on track for a degree.