This is the spoor of an educational system gone mad: Nov. 15, 1979: Eight Arizona State football players were declared ineligible because they received credit for an extension course, Remediation of Reading, Mathematics and Language for the Exceptional Child, taught during the summer of 1979 in Gardena, Calif. under the auspices of Rocky Mountain College of Billings, Mont. The players neither attended any classes in the course nor completed any of the work required. Arizona State forfeited the five victories in which the eight had participated and Athletic Director Dr. Fred Miller was subsequently fired.
Nov. 19: The NCAA informed San Jose State that a Spartan football player, senior Guard Steve Hart, might be academically ineligible. San Jose investigated the allegation and found that Hart had, indeed, claimed credit falsely for two courses in the Rocky Mountain program. San Jose, the PCAA co-champion, forfeited two victories, a tie and the conference title.
Nov. 30: New Mexico Basketball Coach Norm Ellenberger and Assistant Coach Manny Goldstein were suspended after an Albuquerque Police Department wiretap revealed that,with Ellenberger's consent, Goldstein had arranged for Guard Craig Gilbert, a junior-college transfer, to receive phony credits through Oxnard (Calif.)College. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted Ellenberger on multiple counts of fraud relating to the alleged doctoring of academic transcripts.
Dec. 4:Twenty-eight athletes at the University of Southern California, including 19 players on USC's Rose Bowl-bound football team, were found to be enrolled in—but not attending—Speech Communications 380, a course supposedly open only to members of the debating team. The speech instructor resigned; the athletic department's academic coordinator was suspended; and the athletes were given a five-day "crash course." After the university reviewed the work done in the crash course, 26 of the athletes were ordered to take a second makeup,"because," said USC President John R. Hubbard, "of irregularities discovered in the conduct of the first makeup." Among the irregularities was the submission by some student-athletes of work that was not their own.
Dec. 6: Five New Mexico basketball players were declared ineligible for having received three hours of credit for an extension course—Current Problems and Principles of Coaching Athletics, administered by Ottawa (Kans.) University and taught during the summer of 79 in Sepulveda, Calif.—which they never attended. A sixth player, who claimed to have actually taken the course, was suspended.
Dec. 22:Immediately before the University of Utah basketball team's 71-69 upset of national champion-to-be Louisville, Coach Jerry Pimm was informed by Dr. R. J.Snow, the school's vice-president, that the Utes' star forward, Danny Vranes,had received credit for the Ottawa University extension course in Sepulveda.Despite Vranes' assertion that he had been given permission to take the course by correspondence and to not attend any classes, Utah ruled Vranes ineligible.
Dec. 24: Oregon State University announced that football player Leroy Edwards, who had taken the Ottawa extension course but never claimed credit for it, was still found to be ineligible because he had failed in a summer course in general biology at Central Florida Community College in Ocala. Oregon State had one win to forfeit.
Jan. 17, 1980:California State Polytechnic at Pomona announced that it had volunteered to forfeit all three of its football victories and offered to do the same with its 16 dual-meet cross-country wins after two athletes—runner Mark Turner and Defensive Back Henry Wilson—admitted to having received credit for classes they never attended in the Rocky Mountain College extension course. Further investigation revealed that Reserve Center Kenneth Barrance, a Cal Poly basketball player, was also academically ineligible. He, too, had never attended the Rocky Mountain course for which he had been registered. Cal Poly thus forfeited eight basketball victories as well.
Jan. 23: Dr.Arthur G. Hansen, president of Purdue, announced that the university had suspended Defensive Back David Anthony Hill because records submitted to Purdue before Hill transferred there from Pasadena City College gave him credit for courses that he acknowledged he had never attended, namely, the Rocky Mountain course and others offered by Pacific Christian Junior College in Fullerton,Calif.
Feb. 14:University of Oregon President William B. Boyd announced that seven Oregon student-athletes were known to have received credit for courses for which they did no work. Four football players had received unearned credit for the Ottawa University extension course, two swimmers had received unearned credit from Pacific Christian College and Derrick Dale, a former linebacker, had earned instant eligibility in the early fall of 1978 by "taking," as independent study, a jogging course at nearby Lane Community College. Dale was credited for running he had already done in football practice. Boyd fined the head football coach, four of his assistants and the swimming coach more than $9,000 for their involvement in the scheme.
Feb. 16: The Los Angeles Times reported that several former athletes at UCLA had been credited with attending a course at Los Angeles Valley College that they hadn't actually attended.
March 10: The L.A.Times reported that USC's Billy Mullins, the NCAA 400-meter champion in 1978,had been accepted as a transfer student at Southern Cal in the spring of 1978 largely on the basis of a transcript that included 28 credits he purportedly had received in the fall of 1977 from four different community colleges located in the Los Angeles area—Pasadena, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles and Rio Hondo.According to the Times, Mullins' schedule would have required that he be at Rio Hondo at 8 a.m. for Economics 1A, 20 miles away at Pasadena at 9 a.m. for Chemistry 22, and back at Rio Hondo at 10 a.m. for Literature 1B.
April 30: The University of Southern California announced that it had uncovered in the records of a former student, a member of the track team, 10 units transferred from California Lutheran College in 1978 that appeared to be fraudulent. The discovery was made in the course of a check, ordered by the Pac-10, of all transfer credits received from 19 institutions listed by the conference as"suspect." USC has also been unable to verify credits received by the same student from Compton College.
Appalling as the public record is, the current state of the so-called student-athlete becomes nothing short of unconscionable when academe's heavily fortified wall of"privacy" is breached. Here, for example, is signed, written testimony given to NCAA investigators by athletes enrolled in institutions of higher learning: "I think he [a coach] did visied me a school one.... Since I have been at [the school], Coach [name deleted] have not give me any money, period.But he have lend me five to tin dollars but I have paid it back to." And,"Coach [name deleted] give me a 5 or 6 dr. to do my cloth is with but other than that he have not give me any money."
For as long as intercollegiate sports have been taken seriously in the U.S., the image of the"dumb jock" has endured. In caricature, he is not an altogether unappealing figure: the fullback whose neck is a size larger than the best grade he has ever received in math class; the kid with a rampant pituitary gland who calmly dribbles behind his back but breaks into a cold sweat at the prospect of diagramming a simple sentence. This was always an exaggerated image, one that was more playfully than seriously advanced.
The "dumb jock" has now come into full flower in the American educational system. He is fast becoming a national catastrophe. He is already a national disgrace.About the only good thing one can say about him is that his blossoming has inadvertently exposed the larger failures of the educational process.
What happened? Why is it different after all these years?
It is different because the educational system itself is in chaos, its spirit preoccupied, its standards blunted to a point where almost anything that passes for curricula is permissible. High schools—many of them—do not educate; they graduate. Junior colleges—many of them—have such meager academic requirements that they are fertile ground for any angling coach who feels the need to do some academic cheating to keep his players eligible. The sins of the high schools and J.C.sare visited on the major colleges, where the buck stops.
It is different because declining enrollments and inflating costs have made the possibility that the bucks will stop a real one on some campuses. Thus, schools become susceptible to the rationale that a little athletic malfeasance is okay in the cause of academic survival. They have seen that the excesses of a few coaches,a few administrators and a few boosters at other schools have yielded success—in direct terms by selling seats and generating revenues through TV exposure, in indirect terms by making those schools more visible to potential students.
It is different because academic standards have been eroded to the point where more undereducated student-athletes than ever are getting into college today. Not just underprivileged young men who need a chance, but unqualified young men who have no chance, not in the classroom. Through their playing days at college they are kept "eligible" via an eventless and immaterial habitation of the classroom. They wind up down the road with neither of the things they need most: 1) an education and 2) a degree. The venerable institutions of higher learning may not be squeamish about keeping such student-athletes eligible, but they draw the line at giving sheepskins to young men who have spent most of their time sweating over a pigskin.
It is different because the administrators and academicians who have traditionally tried to keep "big sport" in its place have created the ultimate irony: as the architects of all this chaos, they have subverted their own system. Caught up in money-madness, they have made a legion of scavengers of their coaches—coaches desperate to win, desperate to get and keep in school those players who can help them win, and thus keep business booming. The failures of administrators are as joined to the sins of coaches as a man's leg is to his hip.
It is different because under the guise of affirmative action and other civil rights programs,athletic administrations have made athletes more exploitable than ever. With all too few exceptions, "eligibility majors" pass through the process doomed to failure and a future of disillusionment.
It is different because in the last 20 years colleges have allowed their "money"sports—football and basketball—to become farm systems for the professional leagues, and in so doing have permitted their athletes to embrace a terrible myth: that attending college with the sole aim of making the pros is compatible with the academic environment, even at the expense of scholarship.Scholastically handicapped players are thus invited into college to pursue an impossible dream: to become one of the small number of college players (less than 2%) who make it in the NFL and NBA.
It is different, finally, because the coaches themselves—traditionally the heavies in this long-running melodrama—see the problems better than anyone else. They are at once culprits and victims, and many of them have had enough of being both."Our administrators tend not to deal with the problem at all, but to gloss it over with a lot of fancy dialogue," says Bill Walsh, who spent seven years in the college ranks—two of them as head football coach at Stanford—and is now coaching the San Francisco 49ers. "If you enroll a kid who has no chance to cut it academically, you're guilty of manipulating that kid. If you protect him from an education instead of educating him, you're guilty again."
"I see transcripts [of high school athletes] you wouldn't believe," says Notre Dame Football Coach Dan Devine. "Some of them are tragic."
Some of them you shouldn't believe, even when they look good, says Louisiana State University Basketball Coach Dale Brown. "Colleges will inherit a student from a high school with a 3.0 average who, in fact, is reading at a sixth-grade level,"he says.
Transcript falsification is an extreme but all too common manifestation of the failures of the educational system and of the educators themselves—which is why administrators (to use Walsh's words) "tend not to deal with the problem." Historically the NCAA would far rather catch a coach or player with his hand in the till than reveal soiled academic skirts. In a 150-page report for the American Council on Education written in 1974, George H.Hanford, the current head of the College Board, called for an investigation of all intercollegiate sport, charging that athletics had "drifted from the mainstream of American education" and "were making athletes willing victims of today's highly structured industrial complex." Instead of"building character," big-time college sports were actually destroying it through "exposure to the unethical and immoral practices in which the athletic establishment indulges." Hanford found that the well-being of the athletes "came second" to the need for fiscal solvency.
University comptrollers, if not those people cheering in the stands, understand what athletic cost efficiency means. An NCAA Division I football team is permitted to have 95 players on scholarship at any time. Say a tuition scholarship is worth $4,000, that means the football team has cost a school $380,000—plus the salaries of a head coach and 10 assistants—before the first pair of sweat socks is handed out. What fans do understand is that they don't have to spend Saturday afternoons watching ol' State lose, no matter what the school's team has cost. And they don't. Which means that if a university is going to get even financially, not to mention tap in on the huge profits earned by the most successful football schools, those 95 scholarships had better go to athletes who can deliver: fill those stands, get the team nationally ranked and on TV—and let's not hear about a star running back losing his eligibility because he cannot conjugate the verb "to run."
Hanford and A.C.E.did not get the funding requested for their investigation. Dr. Harry Marmion,director of the Commission on Collegiate Athletics for A.C.E. and a former coach and college president, found this sad but not surprising. "The whole fabric of U.S. athletics has been distorted," he said.
The problem, says Dr. Ewald B. Nyquist, a vice-president of Pace University and former commissioner of education for the State of New York, is moral: "not educational, not economic or fiscal, not social—but moral. And what is morally wrong can never be educationally right."
To find the origin of this particular sin, you have to go back to before college, says LSU's Brown, "back to lazy parents who never encourage their children to read, to awful high school instruction and to high school principals whose main aim is to keep students going from one step to another to make way for the next batch."
Flaws in elementary and secondary education (over—crowding, underfinancing, classrooms in turmoil, etc.) are well documented. What is new is that the situation is steadily worsening. As the economy falters, public services are curtailed, and education is often the first and hardest hit by the cutbacks. More than 40% of the initial $6.8 billion reduction in public spending brought about by Proposition 13 in California came from education budgets.
When a high school transcript makes better fiction than The Grapes of Wrath, it is a good bet that the school has compensated for the miserable job it has done by "helping the kid out." College recruiters complain of an all-too-familiar pattern.The requirement for a football or basketball scholarship at many Division I institutions is a C average through high school. A school finds out a college coach is interested in one of its boys. The boy reads at the fifth-grade level.The boy suddenly becomes an A student. The NCAA has a case on file of a New York athlete who showed colleges three different transcripts—three different sets of grades. But such examples no longer need be cited to prove that a problem exists. After the academic scandals that have made headlines with regularity over the last six months only the terminally naive can deny the existence of a deliberate, pervasive warping of the system. And the seemingly mandatory cop-out of coaches and administrators when caught—that "this is an isolated instance"—doesn't wash any longer.
Occasionally a coach will stop singing the fraternity song and level with the world. One is Pepper Rodgers: "If I were coaching at a school where you could give a guy five hours of correspondence courses during the summer to keep him eligible,hell, yes, I'd give 'em to him. So would every other football coach, to my knowledge. Why? Because that would be the rule at that school, and the alumni are going to fire me and my wife and my kids and my assistant coaches and their families if a 6'2", 220-pound halfback who can run the 40 in 4.5 isn't eligible and we don't win football games." (Rodgers was fired by Georgia Tech last December.)
And a former football coach in Utah, who begs anonymity, says, "I'd love to have players who're great athletes and great students. But it boils down to this: a coach can't always get kids that qualify as both. So I adopted this formula: sprinkle in as many brilliant students as possible who can play a respectable brand of football. Then go out and find the guys who don't give a damn about academics but want to make football their meat. Let the geniuses play a little bit. Let the All-America dummies play a lot. Then every time a genius does something brilliant on the field, play it up four times as much as what the dummy did.The college world and professors eat that sort of thing right up."
But for the most part there is collective silence and the academic pantomime goes on, played out by a cast of coaches, faculty members, parents and community leaders. Reginald Brown, the principal of Chicago Vocational High School, calls it "a status thing." The cast members almost invariably justify their duplicity by asking, "How can you deprive a kid of a college education?" But is it education? And are not every student's academic accomplishments diminished by the hypocrisy, curriculum juggling and outright cheating?
"It's prevalent and it's accepted...[but] it's a cancer," says Brown. "If you let a kid pass when he doesn't deserve to and the other students and staff members know it, it breaks down all the respect and discipline at the school.It erodes the whole network of education."
Chaos can have gentle beginnings. Bill Walsh sees the educational plight of today's athlete as an evolutionary process that ends in dehumanization. It begins with concern and caring. "It starts from the day a Little League coach takes a youngster under his wing and tells the boy he can be a great baseball player," says Walsh. " 'But to do it,' he tells the boy, 'you've got to forgo all the other sports—no tennis, no swimming. Never mind the piano, practice your baseball!' The Little League coach cares. He enjoys his work and, naturally,he'd like to develop a baseball player.
"The boy enrolls in high school, and the coach there sees his potential. He wants the youngster to have the 'opportunity to excel.' Whether the coach realizes it or not, he starts directing the boy's life—telling him what classes to take,giving him a course of study that doesn't challenge him in the classroom or develop the disciplines of the mind that will best serve him in society.
"The parents fall into the trap. They're happy their son is being 'taken care of.' If he is really exceptional in athletics, the townspeople get involved, from the mayor on down. They treat him specially, to the point where he doesn't have a real perspective on life. 'Things' are done for him. No one wants to spoil his chances to make it big.
"The college recruiter visits. He tells the parents that he will 'take care' of their boy,make sure this or that doesn't happen, that he'll have the best of this and that. Still the young man hasn't had to deal with the day-to-day frustrations other youngsters face. He's quite willing to accept this attention—his name in the paper, a suit of clothes, being steered away from classes he 'won't need.'After all, he's going to be a pro.
"The boy goes through his college career 'protected.' Special dormitories, special food,carefully chosen courses. He lives with youngsters of the same interests. There are no distractions, no problems, no frustrations. We coaches feel we have to try harder and harder, because that's what our competition does, and so we do more and more to segregate the athlete. And he goes willingly.
"We do everything but educate him. We're afraid he'll fail, so we look for ways of making it easier instead of ways to educate him. Soon his entire outlook is distorted.
"It can be devastating."
Thus, the devastation begins long before the student-athlete reaches for the top rung of the educational ladder, and there's little the colleges can do about the failure below. Whether or not a high school diploma is much more than a certificate of attendance is outside the NCAA's jurisdiction so long as the student's record is dutifully recorded on the proper transcript form.Universities know that often the secondary schools are writing fiction—about non-athletes as well as athletes. SAT scores for all high schoolers, which the schools can't tamper with, have fallen at a rate of 2½ points a year over the last decade, indicating that incoming freshmen are more poorly prepared than they used to be. Many colleges have had to set up massive and expensive remedial reading and mathematics programs for first-year students. Ohio State found that more than half its freshman class in 1978 needed remedial math and a fourth needed remedial English.
A unique comparative study was recently completed by Dr. Alvin C. Eurich, currently the president of the Academy for Educational Development. In 1928 he administered a reading examination for 1,313 freshmen at the University of Minnesota and 4,191 high school seniors in the state. In 1978 he gave the same test to a similarly diverse group of 865 freshmen at Minnesota, and the scores were significantly poorer across the board. The freshmen of '78 even tested at a lower reading level than the high school seniors of '28. And it wasn't just that a larger slice of the population (45.5%) goes to college now than did in 1928 (12%),resulting in a lower average score. In the top 1%, the very best of '78 tested at a significantly lower level than the very best of a half century ago.
From the moment the student-athlete sets foot on campus, the name of the game is "majoring in eligibility," and it is a vulgar, callous, shameful, cynical—and perfectly legal—exploitation of the system by and for the American college athlete. The formal term for it is "normal progress toward a degree."But the NCAA's definition of "progress" won't be found in any dictionary; for one thing, "progress" in the student-athlete lexicon can mean no progress at all.
Here is how Bernard Madison of Chicago was making "progress" toward a degree at Montana State University:
Madison is 20 years old. At Hirsch High School on the South Side of Chicago, he grew to be 6'5" tall and a better-than-average basketball player. Maybe not a pro prospect, but good enough to make first team of the All-City squad in 1978. He graduated with a 2.7 grade-point average, which put him in a good position to make basketball pay for his higher education.
Chick Sherrer,president of Athletes For Better Education, wrote the following evaluation of Madison's academic prospects in a profile book that AFBE sends out annually to college recruiters: "Bernard [is qualified], but his program of studies over the last two high school years has not been the most solid college preparatory. This is his second year in the AFBE program and we have been impressed consistently with his uprightness, courtesy and classroom cooperation. He may never set the academic world on fire, but his lamp of learning will burn with a steady, carefully-tended light."
These are the courses Montana State arranged for Madison to take to keep his lamp burning through the first half of his first basketball season—Basketball Fundamentals and Techniques, Basketball Philosophy, Physical Conditioning, Wrestling Theory,General Biology (health) and Safety With Hand Power Tools. Madison earned a B average.
After the semester was up, Madison called Sherrer, almost in tears. He said he realized he wasn't going to make a million dollars playing for the Celtics, but at this rate he wouldn't even be able to get a decent job after his"education." He said he had arranged to switch some classes for the next semester, working into his schedule some English, some math, some general economics. But by this time, Madison says, Montana State had "destroyed my motivation." He stayed on through most of the second semester, withdrawing just before finals. He has since enrolled at Chicago State University, where he is taking the courses necessary for him to begin his sophomore year there next autumn as a history major.
University of Cincinnati President Henry R. Winkler was equally unhappy upon discovering what "normal progress" can mean. When he addressed his school's faculty senate about an NCAA probe of recruiting violations that had led to sanctions against Cincinnati, he said he had decided to go beyond the NCAA's investigation to see what kind of academic performance was passing for"progress" by athletes in his school.
Among his findings was the case of a basketball player, a member of the Bearcats' 1,000-point club, who had spent four years at Cincinnati and had accumulated approximately 50 credits, barely 25% of the number that is required for graduation.
Winkler was stunned. "When I looked through [the] transcript, I realized there was noway in which anyone could argue that this person was making reasonable progress toward a degree—even an Associate of Arts, which is a two-year degree. He had played four years of basketball."
Winkler also said, "I think I need to assure the faculty that I am a believer in intercollegiate athletics. I also will be damned if I am going to be president of a university in which substantial corruption in athletics is the rule."
Winkler then told his faculty that "slovenliness and the lack of concern on the part of administrators and athletic personnel" was over. Cincinnati, he said, would no longer allow "a mockery of the educational system."
One other fact bothered Winkler. He said he thought the two-year probation imposed by the NCAA for the recruiting violations was "appropriate," but "nowhere in that report did the NCAA show any interest whatsoever in the question of the academic performance of athletes. In effect, they were saying, 'We don't give a damn whether your people are academically eligible, whether they go to school or not.' That may be a harsh reading, but it is the only conclusion I can draw from the evidence I have before me."
Welcome to"normal progress," Mr. President.
Well then, what is "normal progress toward a degree"? Basically it is a mishmash the NCAA—meaning the member schools, not the paid staff in Shawnee Mission, Kans.—has concocted. The membership resists hard-and-fast "normal progress" rules. Led by the Ivy League, it wants autonomy in scholastic matters and the right of "like institutions with like needs" to handle academic requirements as they see fit. The NCAA requires only that an athlete be "in good academic standing as determined by the faculty" of his school, that he be "enrolled in at least a minimum full-time program of studies" and that he maintain "satisfactory progress toward a baccalaureate or equivalent degree as determined by...that institution."
The NCAA's minimum standard is that a student-athlete must be registered in at least 12 hours of course work per semester or quarter, but in practice the demands vary from conference to conference and school to school. Most of the major conferences require 24 semester hours passed per year; the Big Ten requires more; the Ivy League doesn't spell it out. There is no central monitoring of progress, no clear-cut guideline on curricula.
The Big Ten, Big Eight and Mid-America conferences have a minimum grade-point-average requirement; the Southern, Southeastern, Southwest and Pac-10 do not. Even within conferences there is confusion. At Georgia, for example, the grade-point-average requirement rises according to hours attempted—which,thereby, penalizes an athlete who chooses to take a heavy academic load—so an athlete could be eligible by NCAA and SEC standards and not by Georgia's. Even then, says Registrar Bruce Shutt, an athlete could remain eligible by moving from major to major, "as long as the dean okays it."
There is also the matter of curriculum, and how to get through by feeding on such soufflès as Family Financial Planning and Household Equipment (actually offered by many schools) while avoiding courses that are required for a major—and, hence, a degree. By dancing (literally, in some instances) through a hodgepodge of introductory-level "life-science," "appreciation" and P.E.courses, a student-athlete can build up credits while making no progress toward getting a diploma or an education.
"Every institution has ways to keep an athlete eligible," says a veteran Big Ten coach. "You know it, I know it, everybody knows it—but that doesn't mean he'll graduate." He describes an example in which a freshman is signed up"for five hours of football, five hours of basketball, five hours of golf,five hours of tennis, five hours of volleyball, five hours of swimming and five hours of track.
"If he makes A's in all those courses, he builds up a great grade-point. Do you know how hard it is to tear down an average that starts with 35 hours of A's? Almost impossible. That's a lot of b.s., allowing things like that. A kid comes to his senior season and hasn't taken Freshman English yet. Don't laugh. I know of two fine backs who have to pass Freshman English this summer if they want to play their last season."
"It's easy," admits an NCAA official. "You simply avoid core-curriculum-type courses that are required to move you into a degree-granting program. Many schools have no exact time when you have to declare your major. You can slide around. Take every service class, participate in activity courses, learn how to officiate a volleyball game or how to play badminton, and get nowhere. Then,when you run out of easy ones and have to declare a major, you simply change majors—move from one study group to another, satisfying the language of 'progress' without progressing at all."
Over the years there has been relatively little discussion on the floor at NCAA conventions about normal progress, despite the fact that in its present form it is, in the words of the NCAA's Assistant Executive Director Bill Hunt, "almost impossible to police. There are too many variations to cope with."Investigators have found that in some cases not even the academic dean knew all the rules. "One school allowed a kid who had dropped out for a year to reenter although he was failing before he dropped out and had done nothing to change that situation," Hunt says. "It was a 'brain school' on the East Coast. The school had a 'rule' to cover it."
So much for how a student-athlete can be legally kept in a four-year school. Getting him there often presents no more difficult a problem. Incestuous relationships outside the province of the NCAA have arisen among some junior colleges with loose academic standards and athletic departments at four-year schools looking for a place to "season" high school athletes they can't get into school or those they need to "place" so as not to expend too many of their valuable (and limited) athletic scholarships on iffy prospects.
Junior (or community) colleges began to multiply when enrollment at four-year schools got tight in the '50s. Generally they serve a good purpose—giving slow starters a leg up or admitting those who cannot afford a major college. In most states a high school diploma isn't required for admission to a J.C.
Once in junior college, a student who hasn't graduated from high school must maintain a certain grade-point average and pass X number of hours (usually 2.0 and 48 hours) to qualify for a four-year school—but the curricula are often undemanding, and there is no organization to act as a watchdog over such standards as do exist.
And if a coach's prize recruit with fifth-grade reading skills or his J.C. All-America transfer with no discernible academic background isn't making it in the dancing classes at State U., well, then there are always extension courses.
If the recent scandals at Arizona State and New Mexico revealed anything, they exposed the temptations posed by extension programs, some of which apparently can be taught anywhere—in a garage or in somebody's rumpus room. Sometimes these courses are Mickey Mouse electives, the direct descendants of the old"basket-weaving" classes.
As colleges have sought more and varied ways to extend their educational offerings, and in the process reap more revenues, coaches have been equally inventive at finding more dodges for keeping their athletes eligible. Under the umbrella of"continuing education" most colleges today offer a staggering variety of both pre-and post-baccalaureate "adult" programs—off campus and on,weekends and nights, with life-experience credits and correspondence credits.In some cases the schools under whose auspices extension courses are given don't appear to be overly concerned about who takes the courses and whether the students do the work the classes might require.
There are no hard statistics on where all this academic fast shuffle with miscellaneous outside credits and a college's own "gut" courses has led, but there is a strong conviction among critics of the system that it does not lead to the grandiose graduation rates the athletic departments of many four-year schools claim. Unfortunately, short of standing at the auditorium door and counting noses, there is no way to tell. Professor Harry Edwards, the black activist who is a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, recently petitioned the NCAA for a breakdown on the diploma rate of athletes on scholarship. He wanted to know percentages by sport, race, major fields of study, etc. An NCAA research assistant wrote back, "I can give you no answers to any [of your questions]. I do not know of any study that tells"such things.
Thus, a high graduation rate among student-athletes is easy to claim. Who's going to argue?Especially since 1974, when the so-called Buckley Amendment, which deals with rights of privacy, was passed by Congress. The amendment in effect bars access to a student's grades and certain other education records unless the student approves their release, and many schools interpret the legislation to mean that they must withhold all academic information, even the fact of whether a student graduated. No wonder that when Iowa State boasted of a "76% graduation rate" among its football players last year, former Athletic Academic Adviser Bill Munn of the University of Iowa called it "a lot of poppycock.Show me a Big Eight program that claims it graduates 70% or 80% of its athletes and I'll show you hypocrisy."
Did Munn mean the figures were false?
"Well, yes and no. It's how you count. Iowa and Michigan graduate about 60% of their football players—but that percentage includes all the football players who showed up as freshmen. A lot of high-powered football factories like to tell you how many of the senior players graduate, but they never tell the attrition rate among freshmen and sophomores. Many big programs lose 25 to 30 players the first two years. It looks better if you only count the ones still on the team at the end of four years."
The whole thorny issue of what a student-athlete is, and what the process expects of him, and he of it, may be decided by a case in California civil court. There, seven athletes, all dropouts from Cal State at Los Angeles, are suing the school, its president and their three former coaches for $14 million. They claim breach of contract and misrepresentation—that they were promised basketball scholarships and got, instead, student loans, for which they were billed after their eligibility had expired. They also claim they did not receive anything remotely resembling a college education.
The seven say their coaches virtually worked overtime to keep them from being brushed by the fires of academe. Randy Echols, 26, the group's spokesman, says that the three Cal State coaches did all the classroom "arranging," that there were athletes on the dean's list who read at the third-grade level, that his own arranged schedule included Water Polo, Badminton and Theory of Movement. He says he had dropped such courses "behind his coaches' backs" to pick up economics, English, speech, etc. Echols was a B student and president of the student body at Verbum Dei High in Watts in 1971. He is now a field representative for State Senator Bill Greene.
Echols says the Cal State coaches discouraged players who tried to take courses with substance and got "upset" if athletes tried to change from courses that were certain to keep them eligible. "There was nobody to show those dudes how to study or what to study. They were making A's in Backpacking, Badminton and Archery. They said, 'Hey, an easy A. That's 12 units.' I knew better."
Athletes are the arms and legs and beating hearts of the big business of major college sport.When, in the end, they are cheated out of the one thing they ought to have—an education and the paper that goes with it—it is one of sport's saddest injustices.
For the scholarship player, varsity athletics involves considerably more than games.Practice is long and hard. There are films to watch, wounds to heal, training table and meetings to attend. In the off-season there are fitness and weight-training programs.
Minnesota Center Steve Tobin, a geography major who had a B average, admits that he had dropped all but four credits during the 1978 football season, citing a commitment tohis sport that kept him busy "from one in the afternoon to 7:30 almost every night.
"People don't seem to understand what we go through," says Tobin. "I'm a lineman and I have to rest at least an hour every day when I get home from practice until my headache goes away. There's no way I can open a book. When we travel, we leave Friday morning and usually don't get back to Minneapolis until sometime Saturday night. I'm not saying I would study the whole time, but if I wanted to, I could. But not while playing football. The weekend's shot."
Iowa State Athletic Academic Counselor Arch Steel, himself a former football player, was asked if, under present circumstances, the scholarship football or basketball player could fit into the mainstream of college life.
"No way,"he replied.
What happens to the athlete is that he becomes a species apart, residing in an all-jock world.He eats with his kind and lives with his kind. He accepts the fact that he is really more jock than student—and finds that his failures in the classroom aren't nearly as important to him as those on the field.
"When the player finds he can't hack it on the field, it's a blow to his macho ego,"says Iowa Academic Adviser Munn. "He can't go home and say, 'I couldn't make the team.' He'd rather say, 'I flunked out.' I don't understand it, but a lot of players flunk on purpose when they see they aren't making it athletically."
"They lead two distinct hard lives," says Dr. Thomas Tutko of San Jose State, a psychology professor and coauthor of Winning Is Everything & Other American Myths. Tutko teaches a class in Group Dynamics that attracts many San Jose athletes. He is sympathetic. He sees the student-athlete's dilemma "almost as a crime—a hard life as a student, a hard life as an athlete. Injured part of the time, chronically tired. Travel, disruption of classes, lack of consistency. They are really asked to lead almost a semidisturbed life."
Says one WAC conference basketball player who is "getting by" academically:"I've never made any bones about it. I told the recruiters I was going to college to get a shot at the pros. I've never been a student and didn't want to be one in college. Most of the brains aren't real good athletes, because they take too much time reading books when they should be practicing their shots."
Some athletes and many coaches disagree. UCLA's John Wooden, for one, never tires of saying,"I think there is a correlation between athletic success and intelligence." Indeed, there are innumerable examples of true student-athletes who manage to excel at both studies and sports. Three football players at Yale last season were majoring in molecular biophysics. At Kentucky,Linebacker Jim Kovach made All-America in 1978—while he was earning a B average in his first year of medical school and beginning his own family. Stanford senior Kimberly Belton won All-America honorable mention in 1979 in basketball and this season set school career records in scoring (1,615) and rebounding(955), while earning a 3.4 average in Communications. Last week he was named Stanford's student-athlete of the year.
In his own way Billy Harris is equally exceptional. Harris is black, and his perceptions of the problems most black students, particularly black student-athletes,encounter are a mèlange of exploitation and educational expediency that must be understood and corrected.
Harris is sitting in an office in downtown Chicago, drinking orange juice from a plastic cup. He is sharp, glib and challenging. His words come in drumming bursts, like hail on a tin roof.
He was raised on Chicago's South Side, in a four-bedroom apartment in a project called Robert Taylor Homes. There were four brothers and a sister. He was the second-oldest boy. His father was gone. His mother was on welfare. She was also "very religious" and "unique." She emphasized the "solid things."
Listen to what Billy Harris has to say:
"I grew up on 39th and Federal, you understand? There's graffiti on the walls that we made.We gang-banged [street fights, not sex]. Gang-banging is peer pressure. It wasn't like you had a choice. I never grabbed pistols and stuff to go out and shoot people, but there were times when I had to bug a little bit to make it,you know what I mean? That's not something I'm proud of, that's just survival.You can't survive being neutral.
"I played organized basketball as early as grammar school. I could dunk when I was 12 years old. We had a little crip line going, me and the other young dudes my age, and I came in, man, and I went up on it, you know, and, boom, I threw one down, you dig? These dudes at the other end of the court are high school All-Americans, and they stopped and came down there and said, 'Hey, blood,' you know? 'Let's see you do that again, Jack.' I was five-foot-nine.
"So I came down, and boom, threw another one down. They said, 'Hey, come down to this end.' It didn't dawn on me then what was happening. In less than two months my game went from being a beginner-type dude that could jump and play to being a force. They wanted me to shoot the' jumpers, you understand what I'm saying? I knew right then there was something different about my game.
"We'd hit 60,70 points a game. I didn't measure myself on if we won the game. I measured myself if when the game was over I had my 30 or 35. If I got 26, I didn't feel good. If I got 29, I didn't feel good. I had to do that because I knew I could.In the seventh, eighth grades, at Crispus Attucks, I was always the high-point man.
"I was recruited from one high school to another. I was at Lindblom Technical. A coach from Dunbar heard about me. He said, 'Hey, you don't need to be there. You need to be here.' I never had a problem with books. I was lucky. I'm above average with that student-type thing. But you can't be a superstar athlete and not be affected.
"I went to this school where they graded you every 10 weeks. At the end of 10 weeks I had a B in this English class, but the teacher died. For the next 10 weeks they gave us a series of substitutes. I decided not to go. At the midterm, in order to be eligible, I had to be passing all my subjects. The last substitute had only been in the class a couple of weeks, but he wanted to fail me, give me an F, because I hadn't been there. Half the teachers in the school went around to explain to him that he couldn't do that. I got my grade and everything was cool.
"Somebody says, 'Hey, man, that was bad for them to do,' and in a way it was. Some type persons would've relied on that all the way, but I say to myself, 'Hey, you were lucky that time,' you know? If this teacher had a little more guts, he wouldn't have passed me, and that would have been better in the long run. But it's hard to make a guy ineligible if he's packing your gym.
"The teachers see this. A guy looks at an athlete and says, 'Well, he's an athlete, he's not going to be into books.' The stigma starts there. It's like they're embedding the seeds. You don't have to 'ask' for anything. You get it. Only time you see a counselor is if you're in trouble. Your counselor is the coach, understand what I'm saying? This is what people refuse to deal with. An athlete is not apart of the student population.
"I graduated in the top half of my class. I had the second-highest SAT score at Dunbar and was No. 1 in the ACT. And those tests are designed for white middle-class and upper-class dudes. But I knew where the future was. At Dunbar I was 'Billy the Kid.' I wore the special uniform number of the star. My brother had the number when he started. Before him, Kendall Mayfield, drafted by the Knicks. Marvin Stuart, drafted by the 76ers.
"I'm going to tell you the prime thing, what this is all about. I came from a very humble background. I had friends 13-14 years old involved in strong-arm robberies. I couldn't do that. I knew the difference between right and wrong. I thought about the afterwards—about getting caught, about going to jail.
"But basketball let me know I could get anything I wanted, as long as the eligibility held out. Hey, man, I got paid. In high school. I got free lunches,clothes. I went to the prom in a limo. I had money.
"We practiced every day of the year. When you practice that much, it makes whatever you're practicing the most important thing in your life. How can a guy tell you it's not if you're out there practicing on Thanksgiving Day? Then when you get to college, you don't go home for Christmas. You're at school practicing on Christmas Day. You're not a regular student, you're not a regular person.
"In high school I had thought of being an engineer. Scored off the board on the tests.But when you become a talent, the last thing the coach wants to hear is, 'Hey, Coach, I can't make it to practice today because I got to go to the lab and catch up on my engineering.'
"They don't want to hear that. Coaches steer you away from stuff that will tax your mind.They don't give a damn if you're brilliant as hell, they want you in P.E.—or anything where they have some control or input.
"I came out of high school I was 17 years old, you dig? From being a high school student to having to deal with this business aspect. That's what college sports is, and nobody should think otherwise. I was recruited by every major university. I had guys put 5-6-7,000 dollars on the table and say, 'Here, all you got to do is sign this piece of paper.' I'm not going to hurt anybody by telling who it was,that's not my thing.
"But, hey, I wound up going to a school like Northern Illinois, in DeKalb. All right, hey,1969, I was Public League scoring champion, and I went to Northern Illinois, a school that never had a team anybody ever heard of in any sport. The next year James Bradley—recruited by everybody, including UCLA—he came to Northern. And Cleveland Ivey was there, from Carver. He'd been Public League scoring champion, too.
"You understand what I'm telling you? Northern Illinois, the little school out in the corn. We were ranked 20th and got featured in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. We would've had a championship team, but the NCAA came out and started looking.Don't think that Northern got there by saying, 'All right, we're going to give you guys four years of education.'
"When I left college I took a pay cut. People want to think guys don't get paid for playing basketball in college, that's their business. We're psyched into thinking that it's good, healthy, all-American fun. That's the thing that hurts the most. All the crap they shoot into your mind. But I was treated super at Northern Illinois.
"But if you get ineligible or decide you want to be in business school, which is what I wanted to do, they're going to come snatch that scholarship from under your ass. I could've got my degree at Northern. I could've graduated on time. I had a 3.2 average. I always carried a full load—over a full load. I was going for aB.S. in phys ed, but I took a lot of history courses—Roman History, all of 'em.Hey, it ain't so tough to get good grades. There's always a way to get around anything. I'm very intelligent, but I'm not above taking a break.
"But I went from being almost like a god to no one really caring. You don't see that until you're 20 or 21, when your four years of eligibility are up. I need six hours to get my degree.
"I got drafted by the Bulls in the seventh round in 1973. It was a big letdown, you understand what I'm saying? I went from seeing headlines—HARRIS NEAR SILVER LINING, MILLION DOLLAR DECISION—to being drafted in the seventh. Hey, that will make you deal with reality.
"The Bulls gave me a $2,000 bonus, and I wound up getting cut. 'Attitude,' they said. It's been six years since I left college. I've been kept in limbo all that time. I played in the Eastern League, I played overseas—in the Philippines, in Europe—you understand what I'm saying? I could still be a force in the league.
"I've gotten by. I can get up in the morning and put on Pierre Card in slacks. I've got two Cadillacs to drive. A lot of guys work all their lives and never get to drive a 'hog.'
"Last year I was counselor for a job-placement agency, but it's closed down now. I was interviewing kids at a halfway house. I was trying to show kids what's in my life, you understand what I'm saying? I want to be a positive influence.
"It's wrong for a guy to get a taste of the pie and then not get any more. The experience was more disappointing than if I'd never been in the NBA. Like going to the desert and getting one sip of water. I'm 28 years old now. I've always had a plan to deal with my life.
"Right now I'm trying to get enough money together to go back to school. Probably Northern Illinois. I don't care about any permanent job now.
"I can't say in truth that basketball and athletics were worth it. Sometimes I ride through the old neighborhood. I see the graffiti. I think about the things we did.After all the crap, a lot of the time I think, 'Maybe I would've been a lawyer now, or even a doctor,' you understand what I'm saying? I had potential."
The pro myth thrives on an irresistible hype. There are two pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, and their names are National Basketball Association and National Football League. The sports pages are full of the figures to be made—exciting,stupefying sums—on the average, $160,000 a year in the NBA, $69,000 a year in the NFL. Agents who swarm over the games like locusts tell how those figures are enhanced by tax shelters and the like, how their maneuvers result in financial coups for the superstars.
The colleges pitch in. They have to; they are part of the mechanism. Since television got its thumb on the windpipe, there is so much money to be made in big-time sports that everybody cooperates. (When asked once why the NBA doesn't have a farm system, President and General Manager Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics replied incredulously, "What for? We have the greatest farm system in the world—the colleges.") The colleges know they cannot justify their sellout by saying they'll use the loot to give athletes better academic training, so they try to justify it with dream talk. School publicists send out press releases bragging about their ability to place players in pro ball and decorate the pages of their sports brochures with photographs of those who have"graduated" to the pros. Last year the University of Miami shamelessly produced a four-color recruiting poster, captioned A PIPELINE TO THE PROS, that included pictures of those Hurricane players who had "made it."
It is a pipeline to disillusionment and heartbreak. Never mind that of the 188 Pac-10 players in the NFL during the 1979 season, only 66 have their degrees. Never mind that four out of five NBA players haven't graduated from college, that almost two-thirds of all NFL players do not have diplomas. Never mind those figures,because they apply to the players who have "made it." Look instead at the multitude of hooked youngsters who are throwing away their education a little bit every day to follow the pro dream; they are the real tragedy. No one is writing puff sheets about them.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, every year close to 700,000 boys play high school basketball and one million play high school football. On the varsities at NCAA institutions, those numbers are reduced to 15,000 in basketball and 41,000 in football. In the NFL, about 320 college-draft choices come to camp each year; roughly 150 make it. On the average, those rookies who succeed play pro ball for 4.2 seasons. About 4,000 players complete their college basketball careers each year; approximately 200 get drafted by the 22 NBA teams; around 50 actually make a team. The average NBA career lasts 3.4 seasons.
If the odds were displayed on a tote board, no one would take them. Thousands and thousands to 1 against making the pros. Harry Edwards is on target when he calls it "a cruel hoax" and says that it is statistically "easier to become a doctor or a lawyer." He might well add that the colleges' willingness to participate in this fraud is at best shameful.
"We hold out the carrot of athletic scholarships and point to the pot of gold in the pros," says Dr. John C. Wright, professor of human development and psychology at the University of Kansas. Then when the athletes prove to be classroom liabilities, "we force-feed them with tutoring, don't give them a first-class education and turn them out with few prospects except pro ball."
The pro myth does its worst damage to those in the system who can least afford further exploitation—the black athletes. "The myth of sports as a way of upward mobility" for young men like Billy Harris reaches its "true definition in the pros," says Edwards. "There are fewer than 1,000 blacks making a living playing professional sports, while every black kid is busting his butt so he can make it, too." Spurred on by a misguided notion of athletic black supremacy and served a daily diet of pro athletes as role models, "perhaps three million black youths between 13 and 22 are out there dreaming of careers as professional athletes," says Edwards. "The odds against them are worse than 20,000 to 1."
Ron Johnson,twice an All-Pro running back with the Giants, calls it "the rude awakening. All those skinny little guys with glasses? Always studying? Well, by the time they're 30, they're doctors or lawyers or successful businessmen and just beginning to cash in on these years of struggling. But the football player is almost always through by that age. and then he goes from earning maybe$100,000 a year, maybe more, to maybe nothing."
Walter (Flea)Roberts, a former roommate of Edwards' at San Jose State, made it to the Cleveland Browns as a 152-pound kick returner, but didn't get his degree.Roberts is one of the lucky ones. He has done well as a San Francisco sales executive and is not a bitter man. He has a Kierkegaardian approach to life—you are, he says, "the prime reason for what happens to you." If you allow yourself to fall into a pattern of relying on someone else to hold your hand,as so many athletes do, he says, you'll surely wind up "a goner."
The worst thingof all, says Roberts, is the aftershock. "If you don't get that diploma,there's no way you'll be better off for having been to college when you go backto Bedford-Stuyvesant or Watts or the Hough area in Cleveland. There's nothingthere. I've been to those places, and there's nothing there that I care to bearound."
The dream dieshard. In the ghettos, it never seems to die. Last summer the Los Angeles Timesscoured the playgrounds and gymnasiums of the inner city to take a look at theteen-agers who ply the backwaters of basketball.
The Times foundthat coaches in the inner city made no pretenses about what life was all aboutthere. A ninth-grader who said he was "recruited" by five differenthigh school coaches was asked if any of them had mentioned academics."No," he said. Mike Montgomery, one of those L.A. playground stars,says, "You think if you don't make the pros, life is over." He calls it"psycho desire."
Bill McGill hasbeen at the top. And back down.
McGill was madefor basketball. At 12, he was six feet tall and already a hero. At JeffersonHigh in downtown L.A.. the hero went to class, but "didn't study." Hisfriends didn't care, and neither did his teachers. He had a C average. Twohundred and fifty colleges sought his signature on a scholarship. He acceptedone from the University of Utah, where the coach, Jack Gardner, found him"an ideal player, almost a model." He led the nation in scoring in1961-62, with 38.8 points per game.
McGill was thesecond black to attend Utah on a basketball scholarship. They were the"good times," he says. "I really enjoyed it, and I did pretty goodin class." A Utah assistant coach remembers that McGill "went to classand tried," but tutors had to be hired.
A semester shortof graduation, McGill dropped out of school. He had been selected No. 1 in the1962 NBA draft, by the Chicago Zephyrs. It was a great honor. Had he come outof college 10 years later, it would have meant a lot of money up front. McGillhad no agent, but he walked out of the Zephyrs' office "the happiest guy inthe world." He had been given a $5,000 bonus and $17,000 a year for twoyears. With the bonus he bought an Austin-Healey 3000. The salary was to be themost money he ever earned.
Bill Sharman, thegeneral manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, remembers McGill as possessing"the most fantastic turnaround jump hook there was. Nobody could stopit." But McGill didn't have the strength to play the post-against the likesof Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell and wasn't quick enough to play the corneron defense.
After his firstseason, the Zephyrs moved to Baltimore and McGill was traded to the New YorkKnicks. The Knicks sent him a contract for $10,000. It was Downhill McGill fromthen on: to the St. Louis Hawks, to Grand Rapids of the old ContinentalBasketball Association, to the Lakers, to the Warriors. He played his last gamefor Dallas of the American Basketball Association in 1970. He was 28, with nomoney in the bank and no way of making a living.
"All I'd everdone was play ball," he says. "I literally walked the streets for acouple of years, trying to find a job. Any job." One night, in 1972, hefound himself in a high-rise office building on Wilshire Boulevard, working fora janitorial service—scrubbing floors for $84 a week.
"I couldn'tbelieve what had happened. I said to myself, 'Hey, I'm Bill McGill. This can'tbe happening.' " To his horror, he found he couldn't even scrub floorswell. "I got fired because I couldn't swing a mop in that sweeping motionthey use. My mother taught me to mop pushing it back and forth, but in thosebig buildings you cover a lot more floor space with the swingingmotion."
He talked to"everyone you can imagine," looking for a job. "I slept inlaundromats, bus stops, you name it, trying to find something. I even contactedthe president of Utah to see if I could get an honorary degree, just so I couldput it on applications."
Brad Pye Jr.,sports editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel and the man who first called McGill"Billy the Hill," managed in 1972 to find him a job in generalprocurement at Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo. When a piece of equipment waslost in transit, it was McGill's job to "get on the phone and starttracking it down."
Although heworked at the same job without promotion for more than seven years, McGillslowly paid off some of the bills he had accumulated as a pro player. Of the$290 he earned each week, he took home only $62; the rest was deducted from hischeck and turned over to the Hughes credit union, which was clearing upMcGill's old obligations for him. His wife, Gwen, an executive secretary atHughes, took care of the bulk of the living expenses for the family, whichincludes two sons, Tommy, now 14, and Myron, now 15.
Last fall theroof once again caved in. In October, McGill aggravated a back condition thatdates to his days as a pro. He wound up in the hospital, where he was intraction for a week. He filled out all the forms for medical leave from work,but his authorized absences extended only through Nov. 19. He was informed bytelegram in late November that he had lost his job. "A technicality,"he says,-"but it was really something between me and my boss."
McGill didn'tfeel he had been treated fairly, particularly considering that he had worked atHughes for seven years, and filed a discrimination suit with the EqualEmployment Opportunity Commission that is scheduled to be heard on June 2. Onceagain healthy, he has applied several times to get a different job at Hughesbut at the moment is still on the unemployment line.
Out of allMcGill's frustrations, there is hope. He has completed his autobiography. Themanuscript of From the Hill to the Valley is 254 pages long—handwritten—andawaiting a publisher. And lest anyone wonder, McGill can tell you for sure:there are no ghostwriters for fallen stars.
"I hung allmy dreams on being a basketball player," he says. "Basketball was mywhole life."
The dilemma ofblack athletes in American higher education has taken on a new dimension sinceJack Olsen examined their exploitation 12 years ago (SI, July 1,8, 15, 22 and29, 1968). For one thing, the larger number of blacks on athletic teams has allbut obliterated the "tokenism" of the '60s. Schools that were oncebastions of segregation now applaud basketball and football teams that arefully integrated. The University of Arkansas, for example, had one blackathlete in 1968, or less than one-half of 1% of its student-athletes. By 1977the figure had risen to 26%.
But only a foolwould argue that being black is no longer a liability on American campuses. Infact, as far as black student-athletes are concerned, matters may have gottenworse in one very crucial respect. There's a big difference between gettinginto a university and getting out with a degree. More black athletes graduatefrom colleges every year, but the evidence suggests that the ratio of those whodo to those who don't has declined.
Confusedinterpretations of "privacy laws" thwart attempts to come up with anaccurate figure, but there are some stunning "estimates." Harry Edwardschecked the graduation rate of the University of California's black scholarshipathletes from 1971 to 1978 and found that "between 70% and 80% didn'tgraduate—even the ones who came to Berkeley with two years of juniorcollege."
Edwards admitshis study was "highly personal," but his requests to see a survey Calitself recently made were turned down. Athletic Director Dave Maggard saidreleasing it would "serve no good purpose."
The only thingresembling an official progress report on black athletes was made six years agoas part of the Han-ford study for the American Council on Education. Anappended report by Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr. found that "twice as many whiteathletes graduate as blacks," that "82% of the white athletes graduatedat one school, 46% of the blacks," and that, at another college, "only12 of 46 black athletes got their degrees."
Recently, thepresident of a university that had been rocked by a local lawyer's allegationsthat black players weren't getting their degrees ordered an internal study ofgraduation rates there. The results were given to SI with the provision thatthe school not be named—for "recruiting reasons." They showed that of91 blacks on varsity teams from 1968 to 1979, only 10 had graduated. Thirteenmore were on the verge of doing so, which meant that if all of them made it,the sad total would be 23 out of 91.
Many factors areblamed for such grim statistics, and most of them are not new: thesocioeconomic handicaps of being black; the failures of education at the lowerlevels; the declining standards that permit the "pampered" athlete tobe swept through the system until the day diplomas are handed out. Allowingathletes to go unchallenged scholastically is a permission slip to heartbreak.Educators have a term for it: the "Hawthorne Effect"—students willperform up to or down to the levels expected of them.
A decade agoblack academicians at NCAA schools were among those who led the movement to getadmission standards lowered. They urged this policy on the reasonable groundsthat the high percentage of blacks still forced to attend substandard,overcrowded urban schools were denied equal educational opportunity and thatopening classroom doors as wide as possible would create an atmosphere ofacceptance that would lead to greater achievement. Recently, a growing numberof black educators have been calling for quite different measures—includingmore selective admissions and academic standards. They see present policies asbeing not only delusive but also counterproductive.
Dr. CD. Henry, anassistant commissioner of the Big Ten, has strong reservations about openadmissions. He favors a policy that would factor in a high school athlete'srank in class as well as his grade-point average and his SAT or ACT score.
"The focusshould be on education rather than eliminating tests," says Dr. RoscoeBrown, president of Bronx Community College and former director of New YorkUniversity's Institute of Afro-American Affairs. "I would support the trendtoward competency tests for high school graduation. But if you don't want tohave them, if you want to keep letting people in the open door, you should keepthe corridors open so that the students can get out of the open door with someskills at the end. If a school takes under-prepared players, it has someresponsibility to see that those athletes get something out of their experienceother than four varsity letters."
Brown, 58, athree-sport athlete at Springfield (Mass.) College, calls the big-time sportson campus the "jock trap." He believes all college athletes areexploited, but that "the main difference is the white athlete doesn't knowhow bad the situation is and the black athlete does." He believes that thecynicism of the sports system reaches its peak in the black community, which"collectively cannot afford to have its resources ripped off and diverted.More emphasis has to be placed on education. We'll still have top blackathletes, but we'll also have more black doctors, educators and politicalscientists."
"It is comingdown to a crisis of the '80s for the black athlete," says Edwards. "Thesituation is worse than sorry, it borders on criminal. You are talking about60% of these 20th-century gladiators not graduating, ending up skill-less andwith a sense of failure—as if they had the chance and blew it. You are talkingabout functional illiteracy. Reading and writing are the stock of highereducation, and many of these athletes simply do not have them. When a person onthe edge of illiteracy enters an academic community he is doubly alienatedbecause he's completely without tools."
There is at leastone place where the tools of learning are pressed into the hands of youngblacks. Father Thomas A. James believes in athletics and the possibilities theygenerate for young men. James is a Catholic priest who is working toward amaster's degree in psychology from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.He is athletic, urbane, tough, outspoken, 37 years old—and black. He is thevice-principal and academic counselor at Verbum Dei High' in inner-city LosAngeles. Verbum Dei has an all-male enrollment of 300—mostly black.
For much of its19-year existence, Verbum Dei has been well known for its superb basketballteams. But it has accomplished other significant—though less noted—things.Today 80% of Verbum Dei's seniors go to college. Sixty percent get degrees. AVerbum Dei graduate was a Rhodes scholar.
It wasn't alwaysthat way. "When I came here 10 years ago, I wanted to teachShakespeare," says James. "The kids laughed at me. I teach Shakespearenow."
James is sittingon the floor at his residence on Crenshaw Street, wearing Bermuda shorts andlounging at an angle to catch the warm afternoon breeze through the openwindow. Noises from the street come in with the breeze.
"We don'thave 200 electives here," he says. "We have math, social studies,religion, science, a language. P.E., too, but only for sophomores. We don'thave shop. We don't have arts and crafts. We don't allow any 'Black English.'Black English is b.s. The people who make you think Black English is O.K. aremaking $100,000 a year. Let your kids buy that argument and see how well theymake it in the real world.
"You don'traise people up by lowering standards. Lowering standards is not a solution,it's an acceptance of getting by. You don't demand less, you demand more. Topass a math course at Verbum Dei you have to make at least a C. We used to passthem with Ds. We were teaching kids to be lazy.
"Values haveto be qualified. We had open-ended admissions. We put a lid on. We said, 'Youcan't get in if you don't raise your grades.' They did. In urban schools,teachers and educators tend to believe their students are inferior.Unconsciously, they give that message to the kids, and the kids act it out.It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Athletes get nospecial treatment at Verbum Dei. No privileges, no excuses to get out ofanything. "We don't take for granted that they won't be academicallyinclined," James says. "Some we push, some we talk to, some we kick inthe pants—but if they can make it on the basketball court, they can make it inclass. Last season we suspended our best athlete for a month for horsing aroundin class."
Verbum Dei takespride in its toughness. Every new student is tested and must go to summerschool before his first year at Verbum Dei. "If you can't read, you can'tget in," says James. "It's too late for you then. It's ridiculous for acollege to take a kid who reads at the third-grade level. It's toolate."
Verbum Deidiscipline is rigid. No tennis shoes in class, no blue jeans. No alcohol, nosmoking, no radios, no tape recorders on the school premises. No gum chewing orcandy or food on campus. Everybody wears a tie. "Kids say, 'Why I got towear a tie?' 'Because we have external discipline. You can't make thesedecisions for yourself.'
"There is afive-man disciplinary board and daily monitoring. We make locker checks. We letthem know we're watching. I tell them, 'I love you, but you do something wrong,I'll punish you.' If they have any complaints, I make them write them out—inlegible English. They hate it, but they do it.
"We have aresponsibility at Verbum Dei. Black male tradition has had its problems in oursociety. So we tell them, 'Look, you've got to get off your ass. Your motherand daddy might not be together, you might be living with your grandma. That'sO.K. We can deal with that. But when you go into the classroom, you can't say,"I want all kinds of attention now." The hell with that. The teachercan't teach because you want attention.'
"And we haveto keep preaching that and preaching that and preaching that. People have diedso these kids can go to school. To be unproductive is a sin.
"The joy Iget from teaching at Verbum Dei isn't seeing a kid get a basketballscholarship. It's knowing that when he gets it he can do something with it.That he can cope with the college environment—he can read, he can handlehimself. Take the cases of some of the best basketball players we've ever hadhere. David Greenwood got his history degree at UCLA last year. Roy Hamiltongot his in theater. Rickie Hawthorne got his in economics at Cal. They werechallenged in high school.
"You judge aschool or a college by the way it helps a kid become the person he should be.The school that lets a kid slide and gives him a B-plus isn't helping him. I'mfrom Louisiana. I know what it means to ask for a job and have a guy spit onyou. But I'm not bitter, because the situation has changed. Kids have anopportunity today. They can get into college, choose a major, get ascholarship, get financial aid, get a tutor, get a part-time job. They canbetter the quality of their lives.
"I have nouse for colleges that 'protect' athletes—keep them from this or that course, orthis or that professor. People say, 'The experience is enough, just being oncampus is enough.' It's not. The athlete needs that piece of paper. If all he'sgoing to see for four years is the gym, it's no good."
Father James isprogram director of the Los Angeles branch of the Chicago-based Athletes ForBetter Education. Unquestionably, young athletes need more men like Jamescalling scholastic signals and more schools like Verbum Dei to call them in.They also need more organizations like Athletes For Better Education.
AFBE is nownearly four years old. The brainchild of educator and former Princetonbasketball player Chick Sherrer, it is a non-profit organization with an annualbudget of more than $500,000, 50% of which comes from fund-raising events andthe rest from contributions from United Way, government agencies and 40 privatecorporations and foundations. In Chicago its big activity is a two-week summercamp at a local college where 125 or so of the city's top high school playersmix basketball with daily four-hour doses of reading and writing and two hoursof counseling. AFBE charts the players' physical and cerebral progress andpublishes an annual booklet that summarizes each youngster's potential. Thebooklet goes out to college recruiters.
But the problemis much too deep and the abuses too vast to expect reformers, no matter howwell motivated, to make a decisive impact. Without legislation and a rebirth ofconcern for individual (as opposed to fiscal) uplift, "the most cynicalobservers expect that inequities, abuses, double standards, malpractices andassociated internecine warfare in athletic programs and organizations willcontinue." The words are not SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S, they are those of PaceUniversity's Ewald Nyquist in a report for the American Council onEducation.
How todiscontinue them? Coaches, administrators and academicians are not in agreementon any one method, but it would be accurate to say that a distillation of theirideas leads to one sure conviction: that the standards have to be raised. Thatthey must be raised first with the colleges so that the effect will filter downand a hard reality made to dawn: that if the athletes are not educated, theywill not be admitted, much less graduated.
Immediately, as afirst step, the 2.0 Rule for admitting student-athletes to college should beabolished in favor of something a lot tougher. Toughening up the standardswould serve two immediate purposes: 1) it would put more pressure on the highschools to prepare their athletes, and 2) it would cut down on the number ofnon-students who are in college on a bye and are merely marking time in hopesthat there will be pro life after educational death.
But how tough doyou make the new standards? At present, the best alternative is the "tripleoption," supported on the NCAA convention floor two years ago and endorsedby the American Football Coaches Association. The "triple option" wouldbegin initially with a 2.25 grade-point-average requirement, instead of thepresent 2.0. If a high school graduate didn't have that, he could qualify for ascholarship by having either a combined verbal and math SAT score of 750 or a17 on the ACT.
Once admissionstandards are up, the following measures should be considered to increase thestudent-athlete's chances of obtaining a meaningful education—and a degree. Thesuggestions were culled from a large number of coaches and academicians, andalthough they don't necessarily reflect the majority opinion, they do encompasswhat seems to be the better thinking:
1) Postpone theannual signing of high school seniors to athletic scholarships at least untilMarch to give coaches and college registrars a chance to review moreintensively grades, test scores, etc.
2) Funnel allhigh school transcripts of scholarship athletes through a central agency at theNCAA offices. If an incoming athlete is caught with an altered transcript,permanently ban him from intercollegiate competition. If the college coach hada hand in it, permanently ban him, too. If the high school is guilty, let thelocal school board know about it—in no uncertain terms.
3) Make thepercentage of athletes enrolled through affirmative-action programsproportionate to the percentage admitted by the school for the entire incomingclass, i.e., if the college has a "4% rule," permit only 4% of theincoming scholarship athletes to be admitted under affirmative-actionprovisions. If that is found to be too strict a formula, strike one agreeableto the NCAA membership and force all members to comply.
4) Abolishfreshman eligibility. An athlete needs his first year in college to becomeacclimatized and to satisfy the deans that his classroom program is leadingtoward a degree. Allow him to attend a pre-freshman-year summer session onscholarship to take whatever remedial courses he might also need.
5) Establishuniform NCAA-wide minimum guidelines for "normal progress," so that allinstitutions are playing by the same rules. Establish a system for reviewingand monitoring progress. Allow access to transcripts by an NCAA arbitrator if achallenge is made by a rival school. If progress is not being made inaccordance with the guidelines, make the athlete ineligible for competition andput the school on probation.
6) Make itmandatory that an athlete attend classes and not just be enrolled during theseason of his sport. If he is in an area of study deemed especially difficultand time-consuming (pre-med, engineering), allow him to carry a reduced courseload, but do not permit him to "drop out" while he is engaged inintercollegiate competition.
7) Establish aformula to restrict scholarships when a university shows a low rate ofgraduation for its student-athletes. If, say, the football team has less than a50% graduation rate, permit the coach to recruit only the number of athletesequal to the number just graduated. When the graduation rate climbs back to apredetermined minimum, permit him to resume normal recruiting.
8) Bar a schoolfrom competing in postseason play or receiving television revenues if theflunk-out rate is greater than the academic attrition rate of its student bodyas a whole. Thus, if the college graduates 60% of the students who enroll, theathletic department must show that 60% of all its athletes—not just those whomake it through to their senior year—also graduate.
Administratively,the following could be tried:
1) Remove allmatters of eligibility and normal progress from the hands of coaches—for theirsake as well as that of the athletes. Make it mandatory for all schools to bemembers of the National Academic Athletic Advisers' Association. At theDivision I level, require that the adviser at each institution not be paid bythe athletic department and that he be answerable to the president's office,not the coach's.
2) Establish"educational insurance privileges" for each scholarship athlete toallow him to come back and finish his education when a career in professionalsports hasn't panned out. Place time limits on these privileges to make theathlete aware of the urgency of getting an education.
3) Work outagreements with the pro leagues to include a clause in standard contractsstipulating that his team will help finance the continuation of an athlete'seducation if he is cut. Make the funding payable directly to the university ofthe athlete's choice.
4) Give coachestenure when they have had enough time to prove themselves so that their jobsaren't always on the line and they aren't so desperate to win—and, therefore,cheat. Give their assistant coaches tenure, too, and put them to work in otherareas of the university during the off-season so that if there is ahead-coaching change, they will have some job security.
5) Requireschools to provide the NCAA with up-to-date statistics on the true graduationrates of their athletes, broken down by majors, sport and socioethnicbackgrounds.
6) Conduct astudy of junior-college curricula and academic standards. Draw up a list ofthose that meet qualifications for sending student-athletes to four-yearschools. Limit the use of extension and correspondence courses to those offeredby a student-athlete's own school.
One proposal thathas been made by a few deep thinkers deserves absolutely no consideration: thatcolleges "end the hypocrisy" and start paying their players; work out asalary schedule, require no class attendance and generally treat the athleticdepartment as if it were a Burger-King franchise. Such a move would not only beanathema to the academic community, but also, while proving that collegeathletics are no more than a business, would do the business in. The rich wouldget richer, the poor would go bankrupt. And it would do nothing to help getanyone educated.
Ultimately, thesolution to the problem is caring. Caring about young people, caring abouttheir being educated, caring about the contribution they will be able to maketo society. The apocryphal university president who, when asked what he thoughtwas worse about athletic administrators—ignorance or apathy—replied, "Idon't know and I don't care," is not as fictional a figure as people think.This attitude must be turned around—and soon.
POWELLILLUSTRATIONIVANPOWELLThe "eligibility major": An athlete who tries to sneak through by taking "Mickey Mouse" courses.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLThe demands of his sport often force an athlete to spend most of his hours with his teammates, leaving little time for studying.ILLUSTRATIONIVANPOWELL49er Coach Walsh: "We do everything but educate the student-athlete."ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLCincinnati's Winkler found "normal progress" could mean no progress.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLEchols discovered his "scholarship" was a loan, his "education" a joke.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLCollege was neither Harris' path to the pros nor his road to a degree.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLMcGill didn't have the strength for the NBA or the studies for a B.A.ILLUSTRATIONIVANPOWELLEdwards wants more blacks training for the professions than the pros.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLStreet-wise James keeps athletics in perspective at L.A.'s Verbum Dei.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLSherrer and his AFBE may be part of the solution for student-athletes.ILLUSTRATIONIVANPOWELLHaving been taught only how to excel on the field, the student-athlete often finds, upon leaving college, that he has become a sacrificial victim of his sport.ILLUSTRATIONIVANPOWELLOnce exaggerated, the "dumb Jock" image is now a realistic disgrace.ILLUSTRATIONIVAN POWELLColleges have few qualms about recruiting and using unqualified athletes, but tend to draw the line at giving them degrees.