ncaa: the bureaucracy
Derrell Hand, left. Marques Slocum, right.
This is the worst kept secret on the internet: Marques Slocum is not expected back this fall due to academic problems. It's not official, but both premium sites are dropping dark hints and Doug Karsch has broached the topic on the radio. It's pretty close. And I wonder what the point is.
Most outside the Michigan fan tribe will remember Slocum for his answer to the question "do you have any pets, and if so what do you have?" Slocum replied "i got a fuck lion now come fuck wit me," EDSBS posted it up, and the internet ran away with it. After that he was either awesome or just another "sterotypical person," as the last comment on that EDSBS post declares:
What a stereotypical person….now people will feel sorry for him for absolutely no reason. We are all that much more dumb after reading his slow minded retarded azz response.YO…Im da Shiznit homey…bow down or get rolled up…Holla..what an idiot.
("Josh W" left a web address where he could be found: http://faebook/. Holla, idiot.) His departure will no doubt be memorialized unkindly by those with an axe to grind against Michigan's efforts to walk the tightrope between Duke football and Mississippi State academics.
To Michigan fans, Slocum was the big, affable recruit who tore up the Army All-American bowl and wanted to come to Michigan so badly he wandered in the wilderness for two years to do so. This is was a unique occurence. The occasional Michigan recruit will fail to qualify, and once in a very long while Michigan will follow the kid through a prep school year. Slocum and Arizona cornerback Quinton McCoy are the only ones I can remember. "Draft and follow" -- where a school signs a guy with almost no chance of qualifying in the hopes of building up some sort of loyalty for when the kid exits JUCO -- as practiced by much of the SEC is right out. Michigan's admissions department is legendarily strict about transfer credits. Except in very rare cases, JUCOs need not apply.
So when Slocum went to Milford Prep for a year and still didn't qualify, that should have been the end of him. Instead, Slocum enrolled without a scholarship, spent a year getting eligible, and finally managed to get on the field in 2007. This was truly dedication to an idea. He's gone now, a few tackles and the occasional UFR +1 the product of two years effort.
Effort of a sort, anyway. The penultimate comment on the "fuck lion" interview paints a tableau of a lighthearted kid caught in a place he has no use for and has no use for him. A table setter is included:
I had a class with this kid for one day - greatest experience of my life. He now has a drew gooden beard. Oh god. Awesome.
Comment by umich1 - February 19, 2008 @ 4:33 pm
Re: last comment
I, too, had a class with Marques Slocum my senior year of undergrad. It was actually one of professor Hagen's classes, one day, we split into groups to do survey work. When one of the group members called on Mr. Slocum to answer a question, he said, "Aw, shit, I don't know - I'm not used to standing up in class. I'm used to standing up to get awards and shit." And then he left the room.
Comment by Shane - April 21, 2008 @ 9:17 pm
Like much about Marques Slocum, this awesome and sad at the same time.
The NCAA has created an underclass of physically talented players toiling in junior colleges or small I-AA schools, robbed of the opportunity to ply their wares in the place most likely to turn their talents into a career. Slocum now joins them. I am trying to figure out whether or not APRs and entrance requirements and so forth and so on are forces for good. They certainly seem virtuous, but I think Slocum would have been a lot better off in a system that let him major in something like "Athletic Performance" and take his shot at the NFL. I also think that the existence of "Athletic Performance" across Division 1 would provide a drag on academic achievement by would-be athletic performers, the vast majority of whom won't even start in college, let alone make a dime in their chosen sport.
But many, if not most, of these guys already assume they're going to the show and screw off anyway. One thing I definitely think: Division 1 schools should be given the option to extend a player's scholarship after his eligibility expires without it counting against the cap. This funnels some of the pots of money currently being spent on athletes to the athletes themselves and provides them an opportunity to actually focus on the classes they're taking after they've been disabused of the notion they are destined to be the next multi-millionaire.
That wouldn't help Slocum, but it might help out a range of kids who spend their time and their bodies chasing a dream that is, for them, unattainable.
(via I Love Kiki)
As for Marques, well... he's left the room. Shit.
One of the safest bets in the sports opinion world is to take whatever the NCAA has just done and call it stupid. The AP could run a story like so...
NCAA DOES SOMETHING OR OTHER
SOMEWHERE (AP) -- The NCAA has decided to do something. No details are available.
...and fifty bloggers would link to it. There would be a 50% chance of "NC$$" and "lol" in each post. And 90% of the time, they would be right.
This is the only explanation I can muster for what appears to be a universally negative reaction to the NCAA's newly toothy APR penalties, which knocked on the doors of hundreds of programs at dozens of schools in a wide variety of sports, just not at, like, USC. Except in basketball, where it did. A sampling:
[Orson at TSN.] The NCAA has its own No Child Left Behind Act, and it is called the Academic Progress Rate. It's the NCAA's own road to hell, paved with good intentions. It is on the way to thinning the ranks of Division I college football, and little but common sense seems to stand in the way of it happening.
[Salon's King Kaufman] Schools have always pushed their athletes into taking easy classes and avoiding challenging majors. The APR creates more incentive to push more of them that way. More kids graduating doesn't necessarily mean more kids are getting more education. But that's OK, the NCAA isn't about education. It's about profits from a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry with a mostly unpaid labor force.
[Wizard of Odds] Not exactly sure what Myles Brand has accomplished in his tenure as Grand Poobah of the NCAA outside of collecting a fat paycheck. He likely would point to his fraudulent Academic Progress Report, which was released Tuesday.
(That last is from the Wizard of Odds, who is excellent at digging up stories and was an awesome resource during last year's clock fiasco but is always outraged when given the slightest opportunity and usually wrong in the process of doing so. I have such a love-hate relationship with that site; you go from daily compendiums of interesting things to outrage factories like "the cheapest shot of the year.")
Orson's analogy to No Child Left Behind is inapt. NCLB, oddly, takes money from failing schools. The APR takes students, leaving behind a smaller corps of kids the Idahos (Idahoes? In your area codes?) of the world can fail. If this makes Dick Tomey complain about "class warfare" in the same article he says San Jose State had "no academic support to speak of," he can suck it up. What are the chances San Jose State would have an academic support program now if not for the looming threat of the APR? Zero. Small schools are complaining that they have to spend money educating students.
Both of the latter pieces attack the validity of the APR by speculating that it's the big money-flush schools that have the most incentive to bring in low-achieving students. Kaufman:
The more time you spend studying, the less you have for practicing or working out. The more road trips and tournaments and nationally televised midweek games you have, the less time you have to go to class. The more a school requires its athletes to be good students, the more good athletes it loses out on.
I really like King Kaufman -- most underrated sportswriter on the planet -- but he's wrong here. It's commonplace for academically at-risk recruits to fall to the Troy Trojans (We're From Troy!) or Akron or whatever. Bigger schools have the luxury of passing on some of the severe academic risks* and the guidance structures in place to keep their academic risks on path to a quasi-degree. Players with a potential NFL carrot at the end of the rainbow are also more likely to preserve their precious eligibility.
*(or oversigning by like six and taking the ones who hack it best. Whatever, we're the SEC! We do what we want!)
This annual report regularly punishes the smaller schools and rewards the larger institutions, which are able to prop up their so-called "student-athletes" with an endless supply of tutors, favorable professors and state-of-the-art academic centers.
Yes, that "favorable professors" link goes to what you think it does. Of course, favorable professors are all they have at Florida International -- that's why it's Florida International -- and Panther athletes still fail like whoah. Oh, and they're cheating. The slam on "state of the art academic centers" is weird, too: God forbid schools are forced to spend some of their filthy lucre on the students that actually rake it in.
Of course, the issue here is that many schools do not rake in filthy lucre, and instead blow millions of dollars attempting to keep up with the Space Joneses in a futile attempt to... what, exactly? Let everyone know that Florida has run out of real names for its universities? Remind folks of the existence of schools in north Texas? The NCAA, as of yet, has no real safeguards against the Florida Internationals of the world wasting their money and everyone's time with a foray into I-A that's destructive to their students, their opponents' fans, and Lamar Thomas' broadcasting career.
SMQB recently laid into the very existence of the program, and I co-sign wholeheartedly:
FIU is not the only bad team, nor the only team that falls short of its various extracurricular benchmarks; most of the SBC and a dozen or so other perennially feeble programs probably aren't worth the ink that sets them apart from the lower divisions. It is, for now, the worst on both fronts, and easily taken advantage of, like a sick, feeble herd that keeps on giving to the bigger, quicker predators in the bush. Is there any reason at all Florida International's continued existence in I-A does not constitute a diluting of the sport's gene pool and a waste of its time?
I would expand that to include the entire wretched Sun Belt outside of the aforementioned Troy Trojans (We're From Troy!) and two or three teams each in the MAC, WAC, and Mountain West that are, like Florida International, failing everywhere there is somewhere to fail.
Orson's dire threat above sounds like a positive to me. There is no reason D-I should be forced to suffer the presence of San Jose State or Florida International and if sustained bludgeoning from the APR forces them to drop down to a level more appropriate for their resources, more power to it. There is ample evidence very Saturday in September that I-A is 20 programs too fat.
There are real criticisms of the APR to be levied. They appear to be thus:
- This waiver business is arbitrary and ripe for exploitation. Bruce Feldman points out this article in the State that breaks down the 492 programs that fell short of the APR minimum but did not get dinged. 315 programs avoided penalties because they have no money or did better than their student body at large; 253 of these avoided penalties because no one left ineligible. But then there are the 6
6 programs, including those from Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, South Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina, that got waivers because they promised to do better, ie: spend more. This can't be done by smaller programs and we should have little sympathy for the pleas of big schools that fall below the minimum. Oregon was at 921 with all of Phil Knight's money: dock them the two or three scholarships. And how the hell did Arizona (APR 902, worst in the BCS) get off this year after getting hit last year?
- The schools themselves set minimums for academic progress and the APR gives them a strong incentive to give students the most remedial classes they can find. End result: the numbers go up but the amount of education does not. The NCAA should institute an exit exam for revenue sports that tests basic reading comprehension and math skills and the like.
Misc.: Protesters have remarked that only two of 37 penalized programs were BCS schools as if the fate of Howard University has any relevance to the landed gentry. Your D-I offenders: *
- Big 12: Kansas
- Pac 10: Washington State
- MAC: Central Michigan, Akron, Temple, Toledo
- Sun Belt: Florida International, Florida Atlantic, North Texas
- WAC: Hawaii, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho
- CUSA: UAB
- Mountain West: UNLV, San Diego State.
Sixteen offenders, two in the BCS, FWIW.
Get the Picture has a good take on the situation, as well.
The NCAA has just released the four-year running APR numbers through the 2006-2007 seasons. Numbers for teams followed slightly (or more!) by this blog:
(Last year's report, FTR.)
A big dip from the basketball team worries. The APR's cutoff before sanctions are applied is 925, so they're flirting with penalties even before this year's Morris-Price-Udoh-Smith exodus is taken into account. It's likely Michigan dips into the danger zone next year, and they might stay there for a year or two. Apparently there's a waiver process via which you can avoid penalties if you have mitigating circumstances and a plan for improvement, -- that's how Purdue is dodging the axeman -- so Michigan may avoid actual scholarship losses.
Football also took a minor hit as the trouble that plagued Carr's final years starts to show. I think we'll see another dip next year, though not one so drastic as to threaten penalties, followed by a plateau that lasts two-ish years before Michigan starts to regain lost ground.
Scores in non-revenue sports were universally good. The lowest was the women's basketball team and their 955. Purdue is the only Big Ten team faced with penalties in a revenue sport; their basketball program fell short. (Indiana is going to get it next year, though. They got waivered despite having a score of 899 and now five guys are gone early*, many of them having left without academic eligibility. Just desserts for hiring such an obvious sleazeball.)
*(not mentioned in that link is NBA-bound Eric Gordon.)
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.
Lo and behold: the academic progress rates are here. This year marks the first that the NCAA has put teeth behind the numbers, docking 11 I-A football programs a total of 41 scholarships. The most prominent offenders: Arizona (four) and Hawaii (one). The most obvious: Florida International, which will lose a whopping nine scholarships. (Never fear, single living FIU fan: your school can't find enough guys willing to fill out a football roster anyway. Docking FIU scholarships 76 through 85 is like removing the spoiler from a Dodge Shadow.) Is this good? Is this bad? Respected and esteemed internet colleagues seem to be taking a cynical tack. SMQB:
The NCAA released its third annual report on "Academic Progress Rate" Wednesday, hitting eleven mostly smaller Bowl Subdivision schools with scholarship penalties for failing to meet no doubt draconian, bureaucratically skewed benchmarks.
Orson dubs the cruelest abbreviation the "Annual Pipsqueak Reaming" and then gets his own ream on:
This post is therefore sponsored by the burgeoning field of NCAA compliance and the American Union of NCAA Compliance Officers. Through an increasingly incoherent and flexible policy, the NCAA's done little more than subsidize the growth of an industry devoted solely to countering its own policies, and one that will likely require the services of that most pricey and ornery of professionals: the attorney. Schools unable to afford representation will gradually be razed out of sport, since the market will clip the weaker competition (HBCUs and San Jose States of the world) out of business.
In the future, the best defense in college football won't be wearing a mouth guard and eyeblack. They'll be carrying a valise and a J.D. from a top 25 law school, and their playbook will be much, much more complicated than that of its opposition for one very good reason: the other team faxed them the game plan before kickoff.
Dang! Orson also references Miami Hawk Talk, which has been all over the APR since its inception. Even though Miami of Ohio has one of the best APR records in the country, they are not pleased:
The NCAA released its third annual round of academic progress rate ("APR") reports yesterday and the upshot is simple: While 40% of college football programs missed the alleged 925 "cut-off" standard, the NCAA waved its magic wand (called the "squad size" adjustment) and opted to sanction only one BCS-conference football program. That was Arizona, if you were curious. Without getting into all the gory details of the squad size adjustment, we simply note again this spring that the explanation that a sport with an 85-man roster needs slack for "small sample size" strikes us as complete bullshit.
(MHT also claims to not have the "earnest indignation" of MGoBlog. I'm trying to figure out if that's an compliment or an insult.) This is a misinterpretation of the squad size adjustment's intent. It's designed to build in some slack for teams with smaller rosters that can be heavily affected by a single departure. In essence, the NCAA agrees that the idea an 85-man roster doesn't need said slack. As the NCAA backgrounder notes:
Elimination of the squad-size adjustment will begin with the 2007-08 APR reports for any team with an aggregate cohort of 30 or more student-athletes.
The reason it's being applied now is because the NCAA only has three years of data:
While the NCAA is working toward a rolling four-year APR for each team, the adjustment will prevent some teams from being unfairly assessed a penalty in the short term.
There would be serious complaint from most schools that they weren't given time to get up to speed with the new regulations. This is a completely reasonable step to take, isn't it? Most of the accusations being leveled at the NCAA right now are criticisms of things they haven't even done yet. If next year comes and the squad size adjustment does not evaporate or if it does and the NCAA weasels its way out of hitting Michigan State because they have an improvement plan, then give them both barrels. When the NCAA announced the APR they said it would advisory its first couple years, then in the third year they would start phasing in penalties for extremely low performers and in its forth year it would be fully enforced. They have not deviated from this yet and deserve a tiny bit of faith.
Many assert that this all comes down to money, and maybe it does. But the spectacle of college football fans and media coming down on the NCAA only punishing small schools because the big ones have the resources to dump money into making their athletes graduate is a bizarre one. The APR is forcing schools to spend millions of dollars getting its athletes in the classroom and eligible. This is a good thing. This is its purpose. Some schools don't have the money and resources to do this; they should not be playing D-IA football.
The main complaint registered by APR opponents is that it affects the small schools too much, but they are the bad guys here. They wish to acquire the prestige and notoriety of the big time schools and to do so they will 1) spend copious amounts of money better deployed on actually educating their students, 2) bring in academic nonentities that were passed over by schools who don't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel, and 3) fail those guys out with no remorse, all for the aggrandizement of the geniuses who think FAU and FIU should have football teams #6 and #7 in the state of Florida. (Historically black schools and Katrina-affected schools, commonly cited as victims, are being granted waivers and such; if they aren't then they should be, granted.) The schools at the top of the food chain are financially solvent, academically responsible relative to the bottom feeders, and have the resources to provide their athletes with academic support.
Those who can't hack it shouldn't be playing. Personally, anything the NCAA can do to nuke FIU and their ilk out of I-A is a good thing. Florida International in no way deserves a Division I football team, but because they want to blow a bunch of money to have one they do. Every game the Panthers play detracts from college football. Hell, the entire Sun Belt fits in this category. Each pitiful Buffalo or FIU or Temple in the D-IA ranks is four or five opportunities for real football teams to avoid playing each other. They're miserable on and off the field. They're a blight on the game. No one will mourn their passing or even notice that they're gone. I-A football is not a right.