OT: Article on potential approach to academic issues with athletes

Submitted by ChiBlueBoy on January 22nd, 2014 at 2:30 PM

Interesting article here. Basic suggestion is to use part of the athletic program budget to create a separate department for the education of student-athletes. The primary issues I see are: 1) we already have individual tutors for athletes, is this an improvement on that?; 2) most athletes don't need additional assistance; and 3) do we give individuals graduating from the department full diplomas? With regard to 3), it probably doesn't hurt the "brand" of the school more than graduating athletes who can't read a la UNC. I also do not think that typical college courses are appropriate for athletes who read at a 3rd grade level.

Anyway, seemed like an interesting topic to debate as we wait for our tete-a-tete with Iowa tonight.



January 22nd, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

Ultimatley it's the athletes responsibility to maximize their education. Most universities all ready provide these seperate education programs to athletes (My undergraduate school, GVSU, requires all football players to take a specilized three week long college skills class  before normal classes begin) in addition to seperate academic resources that are available just to the athletes themselves. Sure most schools push certain athletes into certain majors, but the problem is that those student athletes are ok with it because they don't care about their education.

Rant over.
I think the NCAA could address this problem by either raising NCAA Clearinghouse Requirements (You can thoeritically qualify for a D2 school without even knowing how to read) or factoring in major diversity into APR scores.

TL;DR Athletes have the academic resources but no personal motivation, NCAA should make a stricter Clearinghouse, or factor major diversity into APR scores.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:10 PM ^

This is funny.  

What about the kids that read at a 3rd or 4th grade level because they grew up in a tough situation?  Sure, most of those kids go to a Florida State rather than a Michigan - but how is it up to them to maximize their education when they're 8 years behind 95% of the student body?  Should we just give up on them?

I don't think there is an answer at the college level.  99% of any issues an athlete is going to have with school are from either:

(A) being required to spend too much time dedicated to their sport, including at odd hours of the day

(B) a lack of solid upbringing that was provided to a vast majority of their fellow students 

(or some combination of A and B)

A isn't fixable given the athlete's desires to play professional / the coaching staff's desires to keep their jobs and get raises.  B starts way before college.... 


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:22 PM ^

on the one hand, you could just increase admission standards for athletes to be equal to those of regular students. that would solve the issue of athletes coming in who aren't ready for college.

while that sounds nice--hey whippersnapper, if you want to be able to make it to the pros one day, you gotta be able to get into college, so you have to be an exceptional student--problem is that there are so many obstacles in so many people's lives that make it hard to get an education, that it is only going to restrict access to scholarships.

on the other hand, you could explicitly remove academic standards entirely (which some schools already seem to be doing under the table). obviously, this solution is never going to happen, and shouldn't, because it would remove all motivation for so many kids to study.

Mr Miggle

January 22nd, 2014 at 5:51 PM ^

One of the biggest problems I see is pushing unprepared kids through school too fast. They have to try to catch up on the fly. I'd like to see a better option for kids that aren't ready for the classes they'll need to take. 

Set a higher standard to be able to play as freshmen. Give the recruits that don't meet it a guaranteed five year scholarship. Have them take remedial classes as freshmen. Set back their clock for making academic progress by a year, so they don't get pushed into taking upper level courses too soon. Have the schools, not the athletic departments, determine when they're ready to take the standard freshman course load. If they need more than one year, it starts to count against their eligibility, but they keep their scholarships. If they ever need a medical redshirt, a sixth year of eligibility should be automatic.



January 22nd, 2014 at 3:15 PM ^

I agree it is the students responsibility to learn. If some people will be willing to put in the work to learn and better themselves in school, and some people will coast by if they can thats just how it goes. I know I wasnt the most diligent student in school myself and didnt want to go to get extra tutoring or office hours or study that much but that didnt mean those options weren't available all the time. teachers and GSIs constantly mentioned office hours in class or would respond to questions on class forums/ctools/etc etc. At least at michigan there are the resources to teach yourself whatever you want to learn, you just have to have the motivation to reach out and get the help that you need. Sure some teachers are better than others and more accomodating but I never had a teacher that didnt want to help their students learn and wouldnt try their hardest to teach them.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:29 PM ^

Making resources available is obviously important. But, putting myself in the situation of a functionally illiterate Frosh at UM, I might well be so intimidated, or insecure, that I'd be afraid to seek out those resources. These are often students who have been told all their lives that they aren't able to succeed, or shouldn't even try to succeed, academically. That their only option is to excel in sports. Expecting them to "teach [themselves] whatever they want to learn" may not be realistic if they don't even know what they should be learning or what there is to learn. We need to get these students up to a basic level of proficiency before some of those resources will do them any good.

I think the approach in the article might be a good in that it would help these students get the basic skills that they need, and it would end some of the hypocrisy of pretending that this small percentage of athletes are in school primarily to learn.


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:00 PM ^

I agree it would be intimidating to ask for help, but i mean the athletes get their own tutors and counselors at school, their own study hall. they have access to some of the best resources in the world and expecting a university to bend over backwards to help them when they already get extra resources other students dont have access to is kinda crazy. 

The real problem is that they were able to get through elementary/middle/high school and didnt develop the skills needed to succeed in a college environment. Whether that is the fault of themselves, their parents, their educators, their environment whatever, if they can't read past a 3rd grade level they shouldnt have been able to pass the NCAA clearing house and that implies some sort of shady grade/test score manipulation.

At some point it falls to the student to take advantage of what is offered them. You can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink as the saying goes. The student athlete must want to learn and must put in the work to learn. Forcing them into remidial classes, forcing extra tutoring time, forcing anything upon them is doubtful to work, especially if they "aint come to play school". 


January 22nd, 2014 at 7:33 PM ^

I believe the NCAA clearinghouse requirements were changes a few or several years back that now make it a combination of high school grades and standardized test scores (the higher the gpa, the lower the test score is needed).  

There are some high schools where students who can't meet the minimum requirements to any four year college are making all As and Bs.  I had a student a few years ago (not an athlete) who graduated 6th in her class of over 200 students.  Her ACT scores were 17s and 18s across the board. 20 is the lowest score that indicates college readiness and allows students to enroll without remediation.  She was shocked at her scores and pissed at her high school teachers for having such low standards without her realizing it.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:16 PM ^

Regarding the clearinghouse and initial eligibility requirements, the Quick Reference Sheet is here (LINK).

Beginning in 2016, the NCAA is going to require 10 "core courses" (which they have sorted out in the Eligibility Center by school) be taken by the seventh semester of high school, and at that point they are "locked in" and cannot be retaken for grade improvement. The broad distribution of the courses is on the reference sheet. 

Also effective as of August 1st, 2016 is the Sliding Scale B (see the sheet for GPA / ACT / SAT correspondence), which will require a minimum of a 2.000 GPA to receive aid and be eligible for practice (but not competition. The minimum GPA for competition will be 2.300 (this corresponds to a 900 SAT and 75 ACT sum score). GPA is calculated based on the required core courses, not the student's cumulative GPA. 


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:46 PM ^

I disagree with the "major diversity" suggestion. I think it would only reward schools that offer a large group of academically questionable majors. Remember when Ohio State was making fun of Michigan for having so many kids concentrating on General Studies while they players majoring in "Family Resource Management" and "Sports and Leisure Studies". Furthermore, kids who didn't care would still be pushed into random majors.

I think it is actually beneficial to put players who don't have a specific interest into concentrations like General Studies at Michigan, Business at Notre Dame, or Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford (info from old mgoblog article "Destroy Harbaugh"). It gives them a manageable selection of classes(considering their intense athletic schedules) and allows them to take classes with their peers while offering them exposure to college level courses and helping them build basic communication/analytical skills. If they fail to make it in football and desire a more specific education at a later time, schools should offer them a full-ride and admissions help to a grad program of their choosing. 

If anything, I think the NCAA should push to standardize education for atheletes across schools and ensure that athletes meet some core set of criteria in their coursework. Granting Terrell Pryor the status of Academic All-American is a greater mockery of college athletics than pushing kids towards a more managable course of action. 


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:24 PM ^

I think amending the academic requirements is a very good idea.  My suggestion would be to amend what “full time student” means with regards to athletes.  I would reduce the full time credit requirement allowing athletes to take fewer courses per semester.  I would guarantee that an athlete gets five years on scholarship to complete his degree.  The scholarship will only count toward the limit for the four years he is part of the team while the fifth is purely academic.  These are the three scenarios.

Scenario #1: A player does not redshirt.

Under this scenario, a player exhausts all playing eligibility after four years but is granted an additional year of scholarship for academic reasons.

Scenario #2: A player redshirts and plays as a fifth year senior.

Under this scenario nothing has changed.

Scenario #3: A player redshirts and is not part of the team his fifth year (coach decides not to extend the guaranteed 4 year athletic scholarship).

Under this scenario, the scholarship is maintained for academic reasons for the fifth year.

This would promote redshirting which I like.  It will reduce the semester coursework allowing more time to study/focus on individual courses.  It would allow extra time to complete degree requirements allowing the athlete to take on a more difficult degrees if desired.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:28 PM ^

why this makes sense (i'm gonna ignore any practical reasons why it wouldn't work) is that, if you use a different acceptance standard for athletes than you do for the rest of the student body, then you are basically creating a pool of people with different educational levels.

it's ideologically similar to having separate admission standards for the engineering school, business school, etc.

create a separate college within the universities for athletes, because you are using different admission standards.


January 22nd, 2014 at 3:52 PM ^

became a business, academics took a subsidiary role with regard to the athletes. You can fiddle with the model all you like but the result will be the same. Athletic performance first, academics second.

It will not change.


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:56 PM ^

991GT3, you have hit the nail on the head.  The business of athletics has usurped the primary function of education tha most of us associate with universities. What makes the process so difficult, is that to walk away from what has become a model based on winning and the money necessary to support same is impossible because of the heavy investment in the physical plant that surrounds sports.

I am starting to reach the point where I believe it is time to stop looking the other way, not only with athletes but students who simply aren't qualified for any of the long list of reasons that are thrown out as justification for making exceptions.  If you need remedial studies, do it before you arrive at college.  Not everyone is equal in their skill sets.

There should be a set of NCAA guidelines implemented which state that you must have a minimum score on the SAT's and ACT's that is at least some percentage of the average for the university you plan on attending or the average for the conference.

An incredibly small number of kids go pro each year. http://www.businessinsider.com/odds-college-athletes-become-professiona…

If they can't get the grades and can't do the work, with some minimal assistance, then don't go to college.  Change the rules and make a pronouncement that in 201X there is a rule change and if you don't have the grades and board scores, you need to consider plan B. Some kids will shape up.  As for the rest, let the NFL or the NBA come up with a way to deal with them.

Or just say "Fuck it" and stop with the charade already.


Forgive me.

January 22nd, 2014 at 4:10 PM ^

College athletics, as currently constituted, suffer from an academic integrity problem. At issue is the fact that, from an "on-the-field" standpoint, using equivilent academic admission and retention standards for the general student population and student-athletes alike would disadvantage the schools with the most stringent requirements.  The simplified reason is that the potential pool of admittable athletes would be much smaller (though there are more confounding factors than that alone).

On the other hand, one can make that argument that athletic "talent" is equivilent (as a commidity or capital) to academic prowess.  As such, it should be allowed to be traded for scholarships, academic supports and the opportuntiy to compete. This is sort of how it works nowadays.

One possible solution (assuming most of us here would like to see Michigan compete at the highest levels of athletic competition) is not unlike the one suggested in the article.  Perhaps, similar to European Club sports clubs, colleges could "sponsor" teams. (I'd root for a Michigan sponsored team no differently than I root for a home town squad).  Academically qualified players could be given a choice to "play school" if they wanted to do so. Those less academically inclined could choose to receive alternate schooling or vocational training. Still others could choose to merely compete - no school required. Just impose an age/eligibility range. If a kid values a Michigan/Stanford/Podunk-U education over another, let that factor into his or her recruiting decisions.

Of course, none of this would contribute to a level playing field among the schools - though it's not as if one exists today - but it would introduce a modicum of "agency" for the athletes without imposing a system that encourages schools to cheat.* 

*See Campbell's law  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell's_law


January 22nd, 2014 at 4:09 PM ^

We could use a model similar to West Point's preparatory school.  If an athlete, enlisted soldier with an excellent record of service, or other applicant displays unique talents but lacks the academic skills to succeed, that young man or woman is offered a slot at a one year preparatory school designed to teach the student the English and math skills needed to succeed at an upper tier undergraduate institution.  If the student successfully completes the preparatory school then he or she is offered admission to West Point.  This system helps uniquely gifted but academically challenged students attend the 'university' but it does not isolate them or 'water down' their education like this proposal might.


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:19 PM ^

Why can't there be an academic Sports Department with academic majors? Many music departments have majors in performance. They audition and recruit promising young musicians aiming for pro careers as performers, offering them scholarships, practice facilities, lessons (with credit) and opportunities to practice and perform in orchestras and ensembles (with credit). Performing groups may also charge admission, travel and compete for awards and prizes. And, as is true in other schools and departments, students and former students get mentoring and career assistance.


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:33 PM ^

This might be worth thinking about. One big difference, though, is that I believe music and other performance-related schools still have the regular academic requirements to get in. Someone applying to art school needs to have the requisite GPA/SAT and also a portfolio that is judged sufficient. Portfolio alone isn't enough.


January 23rd, 2014 at 4:32 AM ^

A strong portfolio isn't enough, I agree. But it definitely helps. When my daughter went through the process, I learned that a highly creative student with a portfolio demonstrating talent and academic ability that is judged sufficient can be accepted with merit scholarships at Michigan and some of the top art schools in the country. 

snarling wolverine

January 22nd, 2014 at 6:08 PM ^

Aren't college athletes basically majoring in sports in all but name?  A guy who played college sports is going to be considered instantly qualified for most jobs in coaching and the like.  I don't see how a "sports" major would help their career prospects more than they currently are.  I think the current setup is better - it allows them to follow some kind of non-sports path as a fallback plan.



January 23rd, 2014 at 3:06 AM ^

A major is a structured curriculum with requirements and electives that provide a comprehensive foundation and prepare students to enter a variety of related fields. I think a well-designed performance major that is rigorous enough to withstand the inevitable criticism, could be a way for some student athletes to get a meaningful education in a subject which greatly interests them. Athletes could certainly major in something else, or add a minor. However, they often have physical, kinesthetic learning styles with great motion awareness. They use the body to solve problems and get more out of courses that play to these strengths by being interactive and hands on. 


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:34 PM ^

When I played D2 football(Saginaw Valley) 38 years ago we did not get extras, but we had the same programs available as the general student population.  I saw a BUNCH of one year wonders or guys that came to play football only and left after one season.  There seems to be a lot less of that now.  

Its great the guys now have extra programs because of all the time football takes.  It can be a crushing schedule.  My son was small D1 javelin/track guy.  The school paid for summer classes, etc.  My son could enroll in classes early before the general students so he could manage his sports schedule.  The school/sports programs gets a lot of time out of these young men and I support a little extra help for them. 

The sad note here is my son could not play football in college because of high school injuries.  The good note is he was a 3.8 student, completed a masters degree and is a sucessful CPA.        


January 22nd, 2014 at 5:39 PM ^

Here is a link to the clearing house standards http://www.nationalscholastic.org/ncaa_clearing_house

This is where i think the problem comes from, the course requirements. 3 years of math algebra 1 or higher and then jump to college and have to take pre-calc or calc 1.

Take statistics for a year, geometry, algebra 1 and you are ncaa eligible and can graduate highschool

Vs a student trying to get into a top school taking algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, pre-calc or passing out of one of those and taking AB/BC calc or enrolling at a local community college for math because your school doesnt offer the next level class. 

Its kids with different priorities, trying to do enough to get eligible and just get the scholarship offer and make the pros because despite the statistics what kid doesnt think they can make it to the big time. why read a book when you can practice playing ball or lift some more weights

Div I Core Course Requirements Div II Core Course Requirements
Subject Requirement Subject Requirement
English 4 years English 3 years
Math (Algebra I or higher) 3 years Math (Algebra I or higher) 2 years
Natural/Physical Science 2 years Natural/Physical Science 2 years
Additional English, Math or Natural/Physical Science 1 year Additional English, Math or Natural/Physical Science 2 years
Social Science 2 years Social Science 2 years
Additional from any category above and/or Foreign Language, Philosophy or Non-Doctrinal Religion courses 4 years Additional from any category above and/or Foreign Language, Philosophy or Non-Doctrinal Religion courses 3 years
Total 16 Courses Total 14 Courses



January 22nd, 2014 at 5:43 PM ^

Why should there be a double standard for student athletes? They already get more support than any other student, and unlike what some people in Ohio may think, you are here to play school!


January 22nd, 2014 at 7:40 PM ^

This is so very simple. Michigan should not recruit athletes for the University's various sports programs who are not academically prepared for Michigan's freshman course work. Period. Regardless of stars or 40 times. Athletes should meet the same requirements as any other incoming freshman.

Given the workload of a varsity sport I have no problem with the athletic department arranging for tutors and special study support to help them, but they should meet the same entrance requirements as any other student. 

The theory and the history is that Michigan can compete for the students who are both excellent academically and athletically. I realize that limits the talent pool. So be it. 

Trying to provide remedial education when the student in question has to commit between 20 and 30 hours a week toward a varsity sport cheats the student in so many ways.


January 22nd, 2014 at 10:28 PM ^

I appreciate your idealism, but that's just not going to happen.  Michigan already has slightly higher standards than most schools for student athletes (almost never taking JUCOs, passing on players that are struggling to meet minimum NCAA academic standards). Like it or not, having winning football teams is important to the University of Michigan and requiring athletes to meet the same entrance requirements as other entering students would put Michigan at a severe disadvantage in fielding competitive teams.