Wednesday, January 15, 2014


There are scholarship athletes with extraordinary academic deficiencies in the hundreds of private and public universities in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision and Division 1 basketball schools.

Earlier in her career as UNC learning specialist, Mary Willingham was stunned when a scholarship basketball player came to her office for help with his class work. He was unable to read or write.

Of 183 athletes in revenue-generating sports admitted to UNC between 2004 and 2012, approximately 60% were reading between the fourth and eighth grade reading levels and almost 10% were reading below a third grade level.

University of Oklahoma professor Gerald Gurney found that about 10% of revenue-sport athletes there were reading below a fourth-grade level.

CNN research reported that these cases are more the norm than the exception. According to academic experts, the threshold for being college-literate is a score of 400 on the SAT critical reading or writing test. Many student-athletes scored in the 200s and 300s on the SAT critical reading test -- a threshold that experts said was an elementary reading level and too low for college classes. The lowest score possible on that part of the SAT is 200, and the national average is 500.

Schools have built enormously profitable business models around basketball and football and this model includes aggressively recruiting and signing ‘athletes’ to fill the rosters and to win.

It’s no secret. Everyone knows. Faculty have spoken up about illiterate athletes pushed through with passing grades to keep up their eligibility to play, while their reading was little addressed.

Reactions range from outrage that this is allowed to continue to outrage that there is any suggestion that the practice be stopped and deny a college education to someone who, otherwise, has not earned the opportunity (but can help the team win).

The most vested stakeholders, the schools earning tens of millions of dollars through their ‘revenue generating’ sports, the NCAA charged with protecting the best interests of ‘student-athletes’ and negotiating lucrative television contracts, media companies paying billions for hugely profitable content and fans flocking to stadiums and arenas in growing numbers are neck deep in supporting the current arrangements and quick to deflect, repudiate, or deny the truth in any critcism.

Gurney, who looked into the situation at the University of Oklahoma, put it bluntly: "College presidents have put in jeopardy the academic credibility of their universities just so we can have this entertainment industry. ... The NCAA continually wants to ignore this fact, but they are admitting students who cannot read.

"College textbooks are written at the ninth-grade level, so we are putting these elite athletes into classes where they can't understand the textbooks. Imagine yourself sitting in a class where nothing makes sense."

That’s exactly how I feel researching the responses from the NCAA and D1 administrations.

The CNN report concluded, “U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania introduced legislation in the House last year that calls for a complete overhaul of the NCAA. When he talked to CNN, he cited the lack of consistency in the way recent NCAA investigations into various improprieties were handled at Auburn, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Ohio State and Penn State.”

"I think (the NCAA) needs to be looked at. I think they need to be reined in," Dent said.

Mary Willingham went on the trip to Washington and said she came back feeling that they could make some progress in bringing change.

Others aren't so confident that a beast as big as collegiate athletics can be tamed.”

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