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?