In Problems in Youth Sports

Just this past week US Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan demanded that college basketball programs shoot for a higher percentage graduation rate of their student-ATHLETES. Duncan was proposing that unless these programs can’t achieve at least a 40% graduation rate, (i.e. 3 out of every 5 players in their programs never get their degree), they should be banned from NCAA post season play! Since when is a grade of 40% considered acceptable?

So what Duncan is actually saying is that currently, many student-ATHLETES are not really students. They are mainly in college to play basketball or football for that school. Of course, this is an argument that has been going on for years. That these high level college athletes are really being used by their institutions of “higher learning” as merely marketing and advertising tools in an attempt to attract more students to campus and thus, make more money for the institution.

This argument seems to make a lot of sense to me. If academic excellence were truly the primary goal of these NCAA institutions, you would find ample evidence which supports the primacy of education over athletics. Of course, the idea that academics are important in college is silly when you look at the salaries of the high visibility coaches at these school: Millions of dollars a year versus the meager salaries of tenured professors!!!! And let’s not overlook what Mr. Duncan is complaining about: Low graduation rates. How are these (NCAA Basketball programs) for evidence of the primacy of academics over athletics? : University of Arkansas – Pine Bluff, 29%; Baylor, 36%; University of California, 20%; Clemson, 37%; Georgia Tech, 38%; Kentucky (a #1 seed) 31%; Louisville, 38%; Missouri, 36%; New Mexico State, 36%; Tennesee, 30%; Washington, 29%; and my very favorite, Maryland, 8%! 8%. Are you kidding me?

So Duncan asks these Universities, “If you can’t graduate 2/5ths of your student athletes, then how serious are you about the academic part of your mission?” Well, truth be told, these schools can’t be serious at all. Instead, they are merely using these athletes and then, after their “academic eligibility” has been used up, they simply discard them.

Now some will argue that these kindly, altruistic basketball and football coaches are different. They are giving these kids a chance where one might not have been available to them. They are giving them the opportunity of a free education even though many of these kids may not be academically ready to handle the discipline and high demands. While this sounds good on paper and in a TV sound bite, I recently heard Maryland’s basketball coach (he of the 8% graduation rate) vigorously and self-righteously defend himself and his program because “he’s thinking about these kids and giving them a chance.”

Pardon me while I dry my eyes but, WHAT A CROCK! As far as I’m concerned, it’s the coach’s failure when you look at these shameful graduation rates. It’s the coach’s job to coach and this doesn’t just mean teach x’s and o’s, at least when we talk about good coaching! Good coaching is about teaching these kids about life and preparing them to be successful both on and off the field. If you don’t make academics and graduation a priority, then you are not doing a damn thing to help these kids prepare for life outside of their sport.

Now I’m not totally naive. I know that a lot of these kids come to college with one goal in mind: To use it as a stepping stone to get to the pros. I know that a lot of these kids don’t give a hill of beans about an education because they don’t think they’ll really need one when they get to the pros. The sad reality is very few ever get good enough and lucky enough to make it that far and have a successful career. Because of this reality, I think the coach needs to go out of his way to help change the headset of these kids to adopt an important plan B, getting a college degree and a decent education.

To be a college coach with a graduation rate of 40 or 50% is to not be fulfilling your real mission with these kids. Instead, it’s simply a way to take advantage of them. To me, that’s shameful and abusive! 8%! Give me a break!


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