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.