Many value teacher-coaches but critics fear grade fraud

The University reviews coach-taught classes more carefully than other courses.

In the early years of college athletics, coaches were expected to teach classes.

With the increased administrative and recruiting demands placed on modern coaches, few continue to teach.

But the University’s kinesiology department relies on athletics coaches to teach coaching courses.

Michael Wade, the kinesiology department director, said it makes sense to use University coaches as teachers because they are experts in their fields.

“We have nationally and internationally qualified talent sitting in our coaching staff,” Wade said. “It seems to me we ought to try to figure out a way to have our students avail themselves of that talent.”

Having coaches teach coaching courses is similar to having a Nobel laureate in chemistry teach chemistry courses in addition to conducting research, he said.

Women’s swimming and diving co-head coach Kelly Kremer said his experience makes him the best-qualified person to teach the swimming and diving coaching course.

“For all these classes, you really need an expert in that area to teach them,” he said. “We’re just a tremendous resource I think they have to take advantage of.”

Weighing the risk

After a recent academic scandal at the University of Georgia, the practice of having coaches teach has been questioned.

Georgia assistant men’s basketball coach Jim Harrick Jr. taught a Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball course in which some of his team’s players were enrolled. Harrick made attendance optional, awarding credit for attending team practices and games.

The final exam included multiple-choice questions such as how many points a three-point basket is worth. All 39 students in the class received an “A.”

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he likes the idea of having coaches teach because it puts an emphasis on academics, but he questions whether it is worth the risk.

“Based on the issues that have happened at Georgia and other places, I am not in favor of coaches teaching any longer,” Maturi said.

“Sometimes I think it can be healthy interacting with students and teaching a class,” he said. “I’m more concerned with the potential of some wrongdoings.”

Maturi said he trusts the coaches and kinesiology administration but said it is an area that requires careful monitoring.

“Professor Wade believes he has a great handle on it and there’s nothing fishy going on,” Maturi said. “I get nervous about a coach teaching an athlete that he or she coaches, or another athlete for that matter.”

But Wade said the University’s program should not be judged on the actions of one coach at Georgia.

“It’s potentially an abusive situation, but it absolutely in my judgment does not occur,” Wade said. “And certainly, I would like to think we are a little more sensitive to somebody trying to do what that assistant did at Georgia.”

Coaches can generally be trusted to teach courses, even when their players are enrolled, Wade said.

“When you work for the University, there is an element of trust and an element of integrity that I think should be afforded,” he said.

Wade said he does not recall any time when a coach who teaches has been party to academic fraud.

Coaching classes

The kinesiology department had limited resources when it added the sport studies major in 1996, so department officials worked out a deal to have athletics coaches teach courses at no cost to the kinesiology department.

Qualified coaches could be found at other institutions in the area, Wade said, but the added cost of paying them would be burdensome.

Few athletes take coaching classes, Wade said. The courses are only offered to students in the sport studies major.

The department allows 90 students into the major – 45 juniors and 45 seniors. About 25 of those students are athletes, Wade said.

Kremer said his average class has eight to 10 students. About half are swimmers and three-fourths are athletes, he said.

Extra caution is exercised for classes that coaches teach, Wade said. Syllabuses, exams, course outlines and grade distributions are reviewed, he said.

But it would be difficult for a coach to influence an athlete’s academic eligibility because coaching classes are worth one credit each, Wade said.

“You just simply cannot keep all academically qualified athletes eligible by one coach giving an ‘A,’ ” Wade said. “He might be able to do it once for one semester, but it catches up.”

Kremer said he does not feel any pressure to inflate athletes’ grades.

“I just don’t know if any coach would actually be faced with a situation where they felt they’ve got to give someone an ‘A’ because they’re struggling with eligibility,” he said. “I don’t know if it impacts the cumulative (grade point average) enough to put someone in that position, where they would compromise their integrity for it.”