OT - CNN Article on NCAA athletes academic standards

Submitted by GoWings2008 on January 7th, 2014 at 5:38 PM

A very interesting article about the deficiencies in the education level and entrance requirements for major universities.  The article published by CNN seemed to focus mainly on football and basketball players, but they requested information on all students from public universities "where open records laws apply." 

Its a pretty lengthy article, but worthwhile.  Here's a teaser:

"A CNN investigation found public universities across the country where many students in the basketball and football programs could read only up to an eighth-grade level."




January 7th, 2014 at 5:55 PM ^

Two thoughts come to mind:

1 - Another reason I don't want to hear about the plight of the poor, college athlete being taken advantage of.  These student-athletes are getting an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise and they are receiving benefits (both proper and apparently improper) that most students do not get... on top of their rental stipend (if not in dorms), their free food, their free clothing, their free ipads, their free world class athletic training, their unequaled "internship" in the world of athletics.

2 - The standards need to be raised and or adhered to.  You cannot sell the chance at that big time NBA or NFL contract without also selling the education.  You need both and if you're putting kids in a situation where they will undoubetdly fail academically, then they cannot be there.  They need to go another route, lest they end up with no NBA/NFL contract and are unable to graduate with a marketable degree and skill set.

Bando Calrissian

January 7th, 2014 at 7:16 PM ^

I find myself more and more enticed by the model of the Ivies and the Patriot League, which has been somewhat adapted to the big-money D1 game at places like Stanford and Northwestern. Football teams made up of students who happen to be athletes, rather than athletes who have to be pushed through as students. Of course, there are the question of scholarships, but when you approach it from an ideological standpoint, it's interesting.

Look at the Stephen Ross Center over next to Yost. God bless Ross for giving the money, but that facility exists for very specific reasons: to create a place where athletes can be monitored doing their schoolwork, and where an army of tutors (and all of us knew at least one person who worked there) "helped" hopelessly overmatched students who legitimately couldn't write a compound sentence do work that could at least passably stand up next to students who got into the university through non-athletic channels. Never mind the fact they promised there would be hours for the general student body when it was built, which lasted all of about a week.

The problem is people don't want to give up the product these overmatched students put on the court, field, rink, etc. And athletic departments know they won't be able to fill their facilities and pay their bills without them. So we're stuck putting up a facade about "student-athletes," when in reality, we're fielding revenue teams of general studies and kinesiology students. As bad as those Carty articles were a few years back in the AANews, he had a point. And, unpopularly, so did Jim Harbaugh the first time he opened his mouth on the subject.

I'd like Michigan to actually walk the walk as a leading major public university and say they're going to field teams that are academically representative of and commensurate with their general student body, but the fact of the matter is there's too much money at stake not to do so.


January 7th, 2014 at 7:25 PM ^

Football teams made up of students who happen to be athletes, rather than athletes who have to be pushed through as students.

This is less true of the Ivies than you think. They lower admissions standards a lot for athletes, more than most people realize.  Only a very small percentage of Ivy athletes would get admitted as regular students.



January 7th, 2014 at 7:32 PM ^

I'm sure this is true, but I wonder about the dynamic with the Ivie's low admission process anyway.  That is, even if those athlete's scores were commensurate with the admitted general populace, there's a high percentage that still wouldn't get in since Ivy admission is basically a crap shoot at some point.  Everyone has insane SATs and everyone is their school's valedvictorian - something else has to differentiate them.


January 7th, 2014 at 7:57 PM ^

One study found that football, basketball and hockey players at Ivy schools had SATs that were 300-400 points below the student body average, and their grades were also below the norm (I forget the specifics, but it was a couple standard deviations).  It's true that admission to those schools is a crapshoot for even the best students, but these guys aren't the best.  (Granted, they're pretty good by national standards, but definitely below the Ivies' normal caliber of student.)





Mmmm Hmmm

January 7th, 2014 at 7:54 PM ^

That's not entirely true, at least not at every school.  At one Ivy, recruited athletes in even the biggest ticket sports (relatively speaking) can be no more than one standard deviation below admitted students. When you mentally factor in legacies, relatives of large donors, and other preferences, athletes at that school are mostly admittable.

Also, I bet everybody who had friends who were recruited athletes in college knows several who did well to very well academically.

Then again, I also heard rumors of the swimmer below a 900 SAT (in the days when it was on a 1600-point scale) who attended Harvard.

Mr Miggle

January 7th, 2014 at 8:15 PM ^


I'd like Michigan to actually walk the walk as a leading major public university and say they're going to field teams that are academically representative of and commensurate with their general student body, but the fact of the matter is there's too much money at stake not to do so.

It's not just the money, although it would probably amount to quite a bit of coin. Schools want to win. Teams haven't been academically representative of elite schools since long before these were big revenue sports.


January 7th, 2014 at 7:34 PM ^

Disagree with point one.  Just because the athletes are being compensated does not mean they are being compensated fairly - there is a difference.  Even after all of those benefits you pointed out, the schools (individually and through the NCAA) are still receiving boatloads of money and paying coaches, athletics administrators, NCAA executives, and bowl executives six and seven figure salaries based on the work of the athletes while denying the athletes the ability to seek any compensation for their talents apart from the benefits deemed appropriate for an "amateur."  Don't blame the athletes and former athletes (thinking of the O'Bannon plaintiffs here) if they're not ok with that hypocrisy.

All that said, I'm not sure this tension can be alleviated without either treating the athletes basically as professionals (allowing them to receive compensation as appropriate, which I think would pretty much eliminate the point of associating athletics with universities from a fan's perspective) or leveling the playing field so that everyone involved is working in an "amateur" system.


January 7th, 2014 at 7:44 PM ^

I still don't buy it.

99% of the athletes aren't earning that money - the jersey/helmet/uniform is.  The institution is providing that vehicle. 

1% of athletes are making a school money specifically because of what they do - the QB or RB or WR or PG with the jersey hanging in the MDen, for example.

Plus, what percentage of coaches are former NCAA athletes?  A ridiculously high percentage, that's what.  How is it any different than any industry where you work your way up?  Well, it's different in a lot of beneficial ways: debt-free education, all the free stuff, free training to make the HUGE bucks in the professional league or free training to possibly make the BIG bucks in coaching/administration.

Speaking of administration roles, I'd be interseted to see how many are former athletes as well - we all know the most prominent one in the state of Michigan is.

99% of student athletes are receiving compensation that blows their actual specific contribution out of the water.  It is only that 1% that can be argued as being unfairly compensated.  Here's a solution: Let them sell autographs or make royalties on jerseys.  Bam.  Solved.

Gulo Gulo Luscus

January 7th, 2014 at 8:21 PM ^

99% of student athletes are receiving compensation that blows their actual specific contribution out of the water. It is only that 1% that can be argued as being unfairly compensated. Here's a solution: Let them sell autographs or make royalties on jerseys. Bam. Solved.

Wouldn't come without its own problems, but I;ve advocated for similar and don't see how this system could be worse.  Start with a very narrow, very transparent scope of profits from appearances/images/apparrel and go from there.


January 7th, 2014 at 9:50 PM ^

Agreed that the vast majority of athletes don't make money for the universities.  The issues is with the small percentage that do.  If boosters are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a recruit to come to the school they support, why shouldn't he be allowed to have that money while his coaches can go work for the highest bidder?

And I think what you're getting at with your solution - let the athlete sell his likeness rather than receive money from the school - is fine.  But I'm personally in favor of trying to preserve the amateur aspect of college athletics, so I'd go the other direction with it.


January 7th, 2014 at 10:46 PM ^

I agree one hundred percent that an athlete should make money off of their own name/image. However (and I may be splitting hairs here)  while the QB/RB/PG certainly have the images that earn the schools a boatload of money - even in the NFL, it's the guys in the trenches, or on defense, or setting picks that allow the QB or RB be popular and marketable. Mind you, I don't disagree with your point that 99% of athletes wouldn't earn money. I just think the real dichotomy isn't between Denard Robinson and David Molk, but between revenue sports and non-revenue sports. And to some extent I like that dichotomy. I think it's a good thing that the popularity of football has allowed Michigan to fund a ton of women's sports, and that Title IX allowed the American women to lead the way at the Olympics and allowed the USA to win the medal count. I'm not just okay with subsidizing non-revenue sports - I'm a strong proponent of it. Do I think Denard Robinson deserves a cut of his jersey and autograph sales? Absolutely. I think his teammates also deserve a cut of it. And I think that, as happens right now, all the non-revenue sports should get a cut of it too - even if they maybe don't "deserve" it. (With apologies to Clint Eastwood - "deserve's got nothing to do with it.")

Zone Left

January 8th, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

The whole point is that while they may receive a degree without incurring any debt, there may be little or no education involved because the athletes are so hopelessly overmatched by the material given their previous educational opportunities and/or ability.

Imagine having essentially gotten the 20% of SAT quant questions right due to having a 1 in 5 random chance at any given question. Then, you're dumped in the lowest level university math class, which I'm guessing is some type of algebra. You've got virtually zero shot at learning anything. 


January 7th, 2014 at 8:37 PM ^

Sure, but don't you think there should be a minor league at least for these athletes?  If they're talented, they definitely should not be spending their time getting an education they don't want.  That's the most bullshit thing about that requirement for kids to have to spend 3 years in CFB to go to the NFL.

Finally, after the establishment of a minor league, I feel like if all teams across the nation were to make these football and basketball players student-athletes instead of athlete-students, it would benefit us all academically.  No more kids on Stanford's team that could not hope to measure up in intelligence to a normal admit.

My guess is that after just having normal students playing the games, people would still watch and they'd still generate a lot of revenue. 


January 7th, 2014 at 8:54 PM ^

that the universities are not allowed to make the NFL rules? There is no rule that anyone has to play college football to play in the NFL.

No one is preventing anyone from creating a minor league. Go do it tomorrow, you sound passionate. The minor league players can experience real exploitation first-hand.


January 8th, 2014 at 1:10 PM ^

"Sure, but don't you think there should be a minor league at least for these athletes?"


They have the ability to play football in the CFL and numerous semi-pro leagues for the highest bidder the moment they turn 18. They choose not to because they know the long term benefit of college (and the football training and TV exposure it provides) outweigh the benefits of going to the "highest bidder"


"That's the most bullshit thing about that requirement for kids to have to spend 3 years in CFB to go to the NFL."


You'll have to blame the NFL players for that one. They're the main driver of that language in the collective bargaining agreement. Not a thing the NCAA or universities can do about it.




January 7th, 2014 at 7:41 PM ^

I was curious what an 8th-grade reading level was like after reading the OP.  It actually doesn't seem all that bad, if this list I Googled is any indication:


If you can read those books, you can probably read a lot of college textbooks; they're not necessarily written in challenging language.  

Of course, that's just one skill.  If you can't write any better than at a middle-school level, then you've probably got problems.



January 7th, 2014 at 6:04 PM ^

I think the best way to make college athletics great again and not so much about money (minor league esque) is by putting athletes on the field who are there for the education.  The student athletes should be held to the same admission requirements of their non-athlete peers.  College football should be kids who want to go to college that also play football, not the other way around.


January 7th, 2014 at 6:54 PM ^

I understand your argument, but look at schools like Stanford, Northwestern, and Navy who claim to  (or actually do) recruit athletes with academic profiles that match the rest of their student body. They all remain competitive.  If we are just accepting any student who can play football we should stop calling it college football.

snarling wolverine

January 7th, 2014 at 6:29 PM ^

If every institution were to hold athletes to the same standards as non-athletes, elite schools like Michigan would be in trouble on the playing field.  (Maybe EMU would finally rise up and become a power?)  I'm not sure I'd want to go that far.

We do need to make sure our athletes are legitimately meeting the NCAA's standards, though.  There are lots of stories of athletes who "need a lot of work" to become academically qualified (as in, they'll have like 1.5 GPA entering their senior year) and what do you know, they miraculously make it.   It seems like you never hear of big-time recruits failing to qualify academically anymore, whereas in the age of Prop 48/16 it happened regularly.  Makes you wonder.




January 7th, 2014 at 8:24 PM ^

I think the athletic department could afford to give out scholarships for quite a while with mediocre records. They might have a hard time putting up $200M facilities every few years, but it just depends on what the priorities are.

One question I have, due mostly to my ignorance on the sociological effects at play, is what is the downside to having students that wouldn't have gotten into college in the first place getting a full ride to a top school, especially if many are moving on to professional so!orts because of the exposure they get? Is there a negative consequence to going to college as an under qualified applicant vs not going at all?

Zone Left

January 8th, 2014 at 1:41 PM ^

My take is there is no downside to admitting a small subset of students who would not have gotten in normally due to a special talent. That goes for physics, computer programming, and football. I also think intensive upfront tutoring and remedial work (for no or limited credit) along with learning disability assistance to bring those folks up to speed is worthwhile.

I do see an ethical issue to admitting those students and then not even attempting to educate them. Let's step back from sports and imagine a musical savant with a severe learning disability. Even if that savant won't ever be able to earn a standard difficulty degree, I can understand an argument from the university that adding that savant contributes to the overall university mission. However, I do think the university has an obligation to get that person to university level literacy standards.

The problem with athlete tutoring is that many aren't learning anything. They're just pushed to stay eligible by hook and by crook. That's ethically irresponsible, at least to me. Andy Katzenmoyer may be an athletic savant (seriously), but OSU still had an obligation to give him a university education as a condition of continued enrollment.


January 7th, 2014 at 6:05 PM ^

Maybe they should stop pretending that athletes are "student-athletes."  I wouldn't mind seeing a system where players are paid as employees and have four years of eligibility.  Let them go to class or not, as they choose, but allow all athletes to attend school free until they graduate, no matter how long it takes.  

That way, they can be athletes when they need to and students when they need to with nobody getting "left behind."  I am tired of seeing athletes exploited.  For every one that makes it into the NFL or succeeds in life, it seems like there are five who wash out.

Michigan has a high ratio of players who graduate and succeed in life, but there are simply too many abuses when the system is viewed as a whole.  It's time to fix a broken system and give players more opportunity.


January 7th, 2014 at 6:09 PM ^

At that point, aren't we just whoring out the most storied institutions in America to be minor league football and basketball teams?

I'd rather see the death of "big time" college athletics in the sense that if you're trying to get to the NBA but can't get into college, then too bad to the NBDL you go.  If Division1 athletics becomes like Division 2 athletics (as far as the level of players), I'm okay with that.


January 8th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

" I wouldn't mind seeing a system where players are paid as employees and have four years of eligibility."


Exempt or non-exempt? We paying overtime?

Workman's comp claims?

We can fire poor performers?



January 7th, 2014 at 6:14 PM ^

Some of individual summaries for schools are here (LINK). 

CNN asked for data on football and basketball players from about 40 schools and got data from half of them.

Among the Big Ten requests, Michigan has not responded yet, Michigan State chose not to do so, but Ohio State responded with a statement on WRAT scores but no data per se. Nebraska turned down the request too. 

Wisconsin provided some data - scores from 122 players admitted over a 5-year span. Of those, only about 1% (2 players) scored below threshhold on both the math and English portions of the ACT. The average ACT score of the athletes was 23, compared to 26 to 30 for the typical Wisconsin student.