Thursday, March 10, 2011

Athletes Are Great Students! (Well, Actually Some Are, But Not The Ones We Want You To Think Of)

If you follow college athletics at all, sooner or later you'll hear the justification from the NCAA or a particular school that "student" athletes get better grades and graduate at a higher rate than the average student population. This, they'll inevitably go on to say, not only disproves the stereotype of the dumb jock, but also shows how good college athletics are for the "student" athlete.

And this is actually true, if you combine all athletes. The problem is, the ones getting those good grades and graduating are overwhelmingly in those sports you will never once see on television and are usually women. But of course, such defense of college athletics citing these statistics are rarely made during a women's lacrosse meet.

No, these arguments are usually made during events like nationally-televised football games. The problem is that this sample of athletes is in no way representative of the greater population. Major football programs tend to graduate somewhere between 50-75% of their players. And the numbers aren't so low because people are going pro; even the most elite football programs have at most 10% of any given class go on to play a single professional play. The rest typically drop out because they're injured or performing poorly and their scholarship is rescinded.

Yet even beyond on these factors, athlete grades are boosted by dozens of  perks, both legal and not-so-legal. For example, most athletes are provided with free tutoring, supposedly because they have demands other students do not. Cynically, one could say this is because they need to keep their grades up to make the university look good. And even looking past the seemingly annual event wherein it's revealed the "tutors" were actually doing the work for their charges at one school or another, there's all sorts of other semi-legal, mostly-shady tactics to keep athlete grades up.

For instance, it's recently been revealed that Stanford, universally lauded for making its athletes maintain the same standards as the rest of it students, was distributing a list of easy classes to its athletes that they could take to boost their GPAs. Standford has defended the practice by saying it's not about how easy the classes are, but instead about classes that might better fit into their unique schedules, which isn't much of a defense, since the school publishes its list of available courses by time offered already. Now would it explain why only a few classes from the given time periods were listed as "courses of interest" rather than all classes from that period, since you know, it's only about the schedule, not about how easy the classes are.

But then again, I guess this is all just based on the outmoded notion that universities are places that exist to educate people, so I suppose none of this is really a problem...

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