Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Auburn and things we don’t like to talk about

Tuesday July 18, 2006

I’ve only skimmed the now-infamous New York Times story about alleged academic fraud at Auburn. I find it hard to get interested in off-the-field stories, and one of the favorite offseason pasttimes in the SEC is hoping that this year’s allegations against your rival(s) will finally nail them good. Still, the story leads to a few thoughts.

We put up with a certain amount of hypocrisy to support college sports. Schools across the board from Georgia to Stanford lower their admission standards for athletes. We admit guys and gals with triple-digit SAT scores alongside the cream of the academic crop and expect our athletics programs to graduate people at a rate equal to or greater than the rest of the student body.

In order to resolve that apparent incongruity, there is an entire academic support system beneath the surface whose job it is to keep student-athletes on track and, at the minimum, eligible. From coaches to adminstrative staff to academic professionals, most of these people do their jobs well, above-board, and they contribute to the education of those in their charge. But when this system fails, things can quickly become ugly.

Problems occur when the support systems we all know and accept get taken too far. Tutors are great. Having tutors allegedly write your papers isn’t great. All students can appeal and discuss grades, but few have an academic support team preparing and pleading their case before a professor or department. Grades get reconsidered all the time. Intimidation and outright grade fixing isn’t so hot. All schools have certain easy classes and professors, and students know how to seek them out. Special treatment for athletes in those classes or abuse such as that alleged at Auburn isn’t kosher.

The pressures are intense, and the system gets bent very far at most every school with a major athletics program. It’s there, and it’s not something we like to talk about. We know that a disproportionate amount of athletes have declared certain majors, and we joke about Underwater Basketweaving courses knowing that it’s not far from reality. We like a great steak, but we don’t want to see the inside of the slaughterhouse. We want top-level sports teams, and we don’t really care to see the messy details of how marginally qualified athletes remain eligible and graduate. When a Kemp or a Bensel-Myers or a Gundlach comes along and shows that a line has been crossed, we get exposed to a part of college sports that we realize is there and omnipresent but is still distasteful.

All that said, there are still some basic guidelines, and the "everybody does it" excuse can only be stretched so far, especially when used in a progression of rationalizations that usually goes a little something like this:

  1. We didn’t do it.
  2. You can’t prove we did it.
  3. Even if we did it, it’s not against the rules.
  4. Even if it’s against the rules, it’s not a big deal.
  5. Everyone does it.

You can’t help but laugh that this kind of behavior led to triumphant announcements about Auburn’s academic standing alongside schools like Duke and Boston College. But that’s what the APR rewards. Keep ’em eligible, keep ’em graduating. Remember basic principles – whatever gets rewarded gets done.

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