Saturday, February 28, 2015

March Madness ... Truth Telling Time

It's playoff time, aka March Madness, for college and high school basketball teams. Excitement is everywhere, and the fans will be glued to their TV screens to follow the action.

So what's not to like about this made for TV extravaganza? Well, almost everything, at least in my opinion.

Big time college athletics has largely become a money making farce which 'cheats' its participants. It doesn't even pay them to play and certainly doesn't insist that they work hard in the classroom to secure that coveted college degree. And far too many high school coaches, players, fans and parents share in this disgraceful charade as well. The kids are indeed being 'cheated.'

Meanwhile, the coaches, administrators and institutions either prosper or send taxpayers, sponsors and advertisers the bill. Either way it sucks.

Dark Days in Chapel Hill reviews the new book "Cheated" and offers a hard hitting explanation about the way things really work in the land of college hoops. So before turning on that TV and admiring the 'student athletes,' their coaches and schools, please consider what all this has to do with education and our nation's young people:

"The most recent college champions are Ohio State and Florida State on the gridiron, Connecticut and Louisville on the men’s hardwood. Of these only one, Ohio State, graduated more than 50% of scholarship athletes in the relevant sport in the title year. . . .

If you ran a college and knew there was substantial money to be had from sports but no requirement to educate athletes, you might cut corners. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did....

A report commissioned by the university and issued last year found that, over nearly two decades, 3,100 Chapel Hill students, about half of them athletes, took fake classes that required no work. The average grade in the fake classes was an A. No-show grades pulled up the GPAs of sports stars who otherwise would not have met the NCAA’s modest eligibility standard of a C-minus average.

Cheated By Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham
Potomac, 280 pages, $26.95 . . . .

The authors accuse their state’s prestige public campus of “broad dishonesty” and of stocking its teams in football and men’s basketball—the “revenue sports”—with athletes to generate profit, then breaking its promise to educate them. . . . “Cheated” sounds an important call for reform.

Details of the scheme confirm the worst fears about “student athletes,” at least as regards football and men’s basketball. (Other men’s and all women’s collegiate sports generally have good academic reputations.) . . .

Across the big-college landscape, around $3 billion annually flows from networks to schools in rights fees for national TV broadcasts of football and men’s basketball. Ticket sales and local marketing add to the total. Meanwhile, the NCAA almost never sanctions colleges that don’t educate scholarship athletes. . . .

Perhaps the reader is thinking: Why this worry about diplomas? Don’t big-college athletes go on to wealth in the pros? . . .

Yet most scholarship players never receive a pro paycheck. . . . Broadly across NCAA football and men’s basketball, only about 2% of athletic-scholarship recipients are drafted. Because a bachelor’s degree adds about $1 million to lifetime earnings, the diploma is the potential economic reward for the overwhelming majority of college athletes.

Of course, athletes have only themselves to blame for not taking their studies seriously. But many are encouraged by coaches to believe pipe dreams about the pros, to focus all their effort on winning so the coach gets his victory bonus. By the time NCAA athletes realize they’ve been duped, their scholarships are exhausted. Used up and thrown away, they are easily replaced by the next batch of starry-eyed teens who believe their names will be called on draft day. . . .

Cheating may have gone over the top at Chapel Hill, but in collegiate sports, institutional corruption is a norm. The NCAA works assiduously to change the subject from football and men’s basketball graduation rates, a straightforward measure that anyone can understand. Instead it offers Academic Progress Rate, a hocus-pocus metric seemingly designed to be incomprehensible.

Currently the overall APR of big-college sports is 976 out of 1000. That sounds as if everyone’s nearly perfect. But on this scale, perfection is achieved if all players have at least a 2.0 GPA. Since the average GPA at public universities is 3.0, what the NCAA touts as “academic progress” may equate to significantly below-average outcomes in the classroom.

But the APR shifts the spotlight from actual grades. Last fall, Louisville announced to fanfare that football coach Bobby Petrino will receive a $500,000 bonus for his players’ academic performance. Sound enlightened? The bonus is triggered by the team hitting a 935 APR. Since the average for NCAA football programs is 951, academic excellence at Louisville is now defined down to below average.

Cynicism regarding athletics and education pervades the big-college system. The networks that are “broadcast partners” (their term) with the NCAA—ABC, CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner—have a financial stake in college sports income and so steer clear of issues like grades and graduation rates."

Summing Up

In the world of college basketball and football, everybody chooses to look the other way and ignore reality.

What happened and is happening at North Carolina is the norm, and it also happens at schools who don't ever play on TV.

It's simply institutional crap that's being sold to the masses in an effort to 'help' us not see what is easily 'seeable.'

So enjoy the games as March Madness begins --- TV stations and advertisers, as well as countless college (and high school) coaches, school officials and 'athletic supporters' are counting on our continuing unwillingness to see the truth.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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