‘Hoopla’ over grad rates wastes time

When University President Mark Yudof announced the buyout of coach Clem Haskins’ contract Friday he didn’t directly criticize the coach for wrongdoing. Instead, Yudof listed a number of negative occurrences taking place “on Haskins’ watch” that prompted his decision.
In naming several things the University must do to improve academic performance in the men’s basketball program Yudof alluded to the school’s poor graduation rate among Haskins’ players as a primary concern. The president, with the help of the University’s media relations representatives, went so far as handing out to all present media a Friday article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that discusses the decline in graduation rates among college athletes.
Yudof noted in the article the national graduation rate for men’s basketball players and said he was embarrassed to see the University significantly below the average. Again, the president stopped short of blaming Haskins directly, and instead urged the University to look at improving “institutional arrangements” in the academic system.
The president’s plea to find ways to improve and uphold the school’s academic integrity is commendable. But what has become a nationwide focus on graduation rates among college athletes is beginning to be ridiculous.
Graduation rates should be taken only with a grain of salt when measuring a college education. However, since the NCAA restructured its governing process in 1997 to put college presidents in charge of setting its academic policies too much attention has focused on these graduation rates.
This week, as The Chronicle article details, the Division I Working Group to Study Basketball Issues meets in Chicago to consider an amendment to NCAA policy that would make freshmen ineligible for varsity play. This measure is designed “to insure athletes stay serious about their studies once they enroll in college.”
Members of the working group said making freshmen ineligible will get players to concentrate on studies “before getting caught up in the hoopla over college hoops,” The Chronicle article states.
Yeah, one wouldn’t want to focus “too” much attention on improving his basketball game, … he just might end up in the NBA. Got to stop all that hoopla.
David Stern, commissioner for the NBA, is also in on this naive panic to improve graduation rates. Last week, Stern proposed a minimum age requirement for NBA rookies in order to keep college players from leaving school early for the pros. His reasoning: “We understand what the lure of dollars are to talented people who can earn a lot of money, but we don’t want our system to be viewed as providing an incentive for players to leave school early.”
What is wrong with ending school early if one is ready for the pros? Stern’s and the Division I working group’s proposals discourage youngsters from striving to be successful earlier in life. They are telling these phenoms like Stephon Marbury and Vince Carter “you are too young to make millions of dollars; you better go back and study and risk the chance of getting hurt and never playing in the NBA.”
I don’t think these NBA and NCAA officials would tell Bill Gates that he needs to go back to Harvard and get that degree, that he’s just not ready. Anybody worried that Tiger Woods wasn’t ready to leave school to tackle the PGA Tour?
Earlier Friday, Yudof praised Haskins for communicating to “his players the goals of playing hard, working hard to achieve career goals, respecting others — including opponents — and becoming honorable men.” Although Haskins’ program and many nationwide may not see a lot of players graduate, it doesn’t mean they failed to educate well their players. A consolation PhD. in basketball doesn’t sound like to bad of a compromise to a bachelor’s degree in English, does it? What degree is going to get a basketball player farther?
Getting a degree doesn’t always have to be the epitome of a great college education. Many people that went to college would argue that the majority of their training in college that prepared them for their careers occurred outside the classroom.
College presidents have the ball in their court now. Don’t get caught up in all that degree hoopla.
— This article contains information from wire services. Nick Doty welcomes comments at [email protected]