by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Try to read this column, and try to understand it, because there are young men out there who can do neither. College students. At least that’s what they’re called. They’re really just football and basketball players dressed in school colors.

For four years, they’re squeezed like a tube of toothpaste. And then they’re left on the sink.

Education is an accident. If it happens at all.

Maybe you remember the story of Kevin Ross, who spent four years on a basketball scholarship at Creighton and then went back to the eighth grade to learn how to read? There are plenty more like him. Most just keep it a secret.

They are victims of the most heartbreaking sort of crime. You remember that commercial, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” ? It’s happening every day.

I bring all this up because, as you may have heard, education is criss-crossing the sports news again. The NCAA has adopted a new rule called Proposition 48, which I’m going to call The New Rule, since I was never very good at numbers.

And that’s sort of what The New Rule is all about. Being good at numbers. Good enough, anyhow. The New Rule sets up minimum requirements for high school grads wanting to play sports at Division I colleges. They are:

An average grade of 2.0 (or a “C”) in 11 specific high school courses, plus a score of 700 or better on the SAT exam, 15 or better on the ACT.

Hey great! you say. We’re finally addressing the issue of education in college sports.

Sorry. We’re not even coming close. Celebrate and educate

Let’s look at it. No problem here with the 2.0 high school grades part. All that means is you need at least a “C” in courses such as English and math and science, and that’s not asking too much from someone who wants to go to college.

But what about the minimum SAT and ACT scores? Maybe you’ve heard how traditionally black schools such as Grambling and Southern are against using these as barriers.

Can you blame them? An NCAA study showed that, as of 1982, one out of two black athletes in Division I would be out under The New Rule.

Mostly because of the test scores.

No, 700 is not a high score. But these tests (the SAT particularly) have long been accused of being biased — racially and socio-economically. Maybe you remember important questions like: ICONOCLAST:HORATIO — A) Cleft: OthelloB) Drama: Pique C) Foreshadow: Amphibian Now, most folks from rich homes who watch PBS at least twice a week would still scratch their heads over this one. It’s an idiotic question.

Ask it to a poor kid whose father is gone and who waits behind nine brothers and sisters to use the bathroom, and he’s got no chance.

“These tests were not designed to be used the way the NCAA wants to use them,” said Joseph Johnson, president of Grambling. “They weren’t designed to keep people in or out.”

He’s right. Even the wacko who invented them would tell you that.

But the test-score business — which needs to be changed — still isn’t the worst part. The worst part is The New Rule does absolutely nothing about what happens once the kid gets to school.

In many cases, athletes load up on easy classes to keep their average afloat. Like “Intro To The Socket Wrench.” In some conferences, they only need to pass to stay eligible.

The athletes play, and when their eligible years are up, they find themselves a long way from graduating. They’ve taken a lot of classes, but many have not counted toward a degree.

Often the athlete just drops out. Or flunks out.

The college got four years of his sweat and blood — maybe a ton of money from a bowl or a tournament — and now it goes on to the next one.

No good. If you’re going to play him, publicize him, celebrate him and profit from him, then educate him. How hard is that to accept? Frieder’s better idea

The New Rule doesn’t do it. All it does is set up a tighter screen for high schoolers.

And in fact, it doesn’t even do that. Say there’s this great fullback that College X would love to have, but he can’t meet The New Rule requirements? College X can still give him a scholarship. He just has to sit for his first year. He can take whatever dumb classes he wants, stay afloat, and then play the next three years in a row.

This is a solution?

A better idea comes from Michigan coach Bill Frieder, who suggests the school lose one scholarship for every athlete it doesn’t graduate. That might work. But will anybody listen?

Doubtful. At the same time the NCAA delegates adopted The New Rule, there was another proposal up before them. It was called Proposition 17 — a system the Big Ten schools use.

The idea is that the athlete must maintain minimum grades while he’s in college, so that he can graduate with at least a C average. If he dips below the minimum, he can’t play.

They voted it down. For the third time.

Makes you wonder who needs the education.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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