Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

Opinion

March 31, 2014

The student-athlete

I ran across an interesting article on Mr. Computer, written by a Yahoo Sports reporter, one Jay Busbee, which had the title, “Check out the terrible paper that earned a player an A- at North Carolina.”

We are talking about the University of North Carolina which is ranked 30th in the U.S. News and World Report’s list of top schools and eighth on Forbes’ list of top public colleges. The UNC System has grown from its original campus at Chapel Hill to an enrollment of over 183,000 students, encompasses 16 public universities, and confers over 75 percent of all baccalaureate degrees in North Carolina. We’re talking big business here.

In case you haven’t noticed, the North Carolina “Tarheels” are very competitive in all NCAA Division 1 Athletics. And herein lies the “conundrum” (Ron’s new big word) for the university as it strives to remain competitive. They have a rule that a student-athlete must maintain a grade point average of at least 1.9 to stay eligible to play varsity sports. Well guess what? Mary Willingham, a specialist in the school’s learning-support system-turned.whistleblower, told ESPN the following:

“Athletes couldn’t write a paper. They couldn’t write a paragraph. They couldn’t write a sentence yet.” She also said that some students were reading at the second and third grade level, which was considered literate for college-age students. She says that players would enroll in “AFAM” classes to attain grades of As and Bs to offset the Ds and Fs they were getting in classes like Biology and Economics.

Apparently, UNC is embroiled in an academic scandal where hundreds of classes since the mid-1990s fell into “no-show” classes made up primarily or completely by athletes. These special students would just submit an end-of-course essay to get their passing grades. This is a classic example of how student-athletes and athletic departments can game the system.

This particular end-of-course paper was entitled, “Rosa Parks, My Story.” The entire paper consisted of only nine type-written lines and to quote Mr. Busbee: “That paper doesn’t even make it six words before its first error (the actual date of Rosa Parks’ bus incident was Dec. 1, 1955), and the rest of the paper would make a fourth-grade Language Arts teacher burn through two red pens. One of the key arguments of the NCAA and its defenders, or those opposed to paying players, is that the players are ‘receiving an education.’ Giving an A-minus to a paper like this shows how false that premise can be.”

In my opinion, this ill-researched end-of-course essay and the atrocious prose of the writer accomplished two very important things. It made a mockery of a very brave and important stance taken by a civil rights heroine and it allowed the student-athlete to keep moving through the university and keep his athletic scholarship. I read the essay and, suffice to say, I know I had to do better work for Mrs. Thompson in my seventh-grade social studies class than this big-time university student-athlete had to do to keep a scholarship.

A classic case of this kind of abuse is Julius Peppers who played defensive end for the UNC Tarheels from 1998 to 2001. He won all kinds of collegiate awards and then went on to a stellar career in the National Football League where he has played for the Carolina Panthers, the Chicago Bears, and will now play for the Green Bay Packers.

A transcript from his college years, authenticated by Peppers, was discovered in 2012. Poor Julius had all Ds and Fs in 11 classes for a GPA of 1.08. Remember what I said about players having to have a better than 1.9 GPA to stay eligible? Guess what. He took several of those AFAM classes and raised his overall GPA to 2.16. Hmmm. I smell a fish. I smell a fish that was been left in the trunk for three days after the groceries were brought in (we did that one time and it was not pretty).

I have told this story before but it fits the theme of this rant. Larry Fedora took over as Head Football Coach of the UNC Tarheels in 2011 while the university was still facing severe NCAA sanctions for academic fraud (imagine that) and other improprieties. Good old Larry was determined to run a tight ship and make sure his players met proper academic standards.

One day he came into the locker room and addressed his star wide receiver. “I just found out you are failing math,” he said, “and if you don’t want to be academically ineligible, you’ll have to answer some simple math questions correctly.” Well, the receiver agreed to the terms and Larry gave him his first question.

 “What does 7 plus 5 equal?” The receiver replied, “7 plus 5 equals 11, Sir!” The rest of the team immediately shouted out, “Give him another chance, Coach! Give him another chance!”

Larry said, “O.K., what does 7 plus 6 equal?” The receiver responded, “7 plus 6 equals 13, Sir!” And the rest of the team shouted out, “Give him another chance, Coach! Give him another chance!”

See ya...

            —————

Dick Platt is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears on Tuesdays. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

 

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