Academics Should Be As Big A Story As A Lopsided Bowl Win

By Gregory Moore
Updated: January 4, 2007

Bowl ChampionshipSAN ANTONIO — It may be hard to imagine but the young men we are watching this week and next Monday on the football field are more than collegiate athletes; they are college students too.

Yet the national media, in its zeal to try and keep up with each other has once again let an important story slip through the editing process and wind up on the cutting room floor.

That little known story that should have been a sounding board for more than a scant few minutes is the fact that there are several football players who cannot play for their schools because of grades and it even culminates in one school actually canceling a basketball season.

Academic eligibility is just as important, if not more, than any football player wanting to play in a big bowl game. Being eligible to play means that the student athlete is committed to actually going to class.

The NCAA has went so far in recent years as to implement a program that forces schools to make sure that these athletes stay on track for their degree.

The Academic Progress Rate or APR is a tool that the NCAA uses to judge how well a school is doing in ensuring that student athletes are actually making progress towards a degree.

Basically this means that big brother wants to ensure that his talented students aren’t just hooping it up but that they are also learning how to be well-rounded individuals on his dime.

If this sounds like the NCAA is policing and trying to hold athletes back, then you do not understand the true importance of the athletic scholarship process. Far too often parents think that their talented athletes are entitled to play at this school or that school and they fail to realize that going to play a sport for a college is a privilege extended by that school.

The process to even be awarded such an opportunity is arduous in itself and requires the potential student athlete to meet several requirements before that school has him or her sign a national letter of intent.

When that former high school student athlete becomes a collegiate student athlete, he or she is expected to take classes towards a degree program and to maintain a satisfactory progress rate that shows that he or she is seriously pursuing a college education.

The APR is something that the federal government wanted to see from its committee discussions on Capitol Hill but it is also what was prompted by several studies on graduation rates; namely those that have been conducted by Dr. Richard Lapchick.

Dr. Lapchick’s studies and the pressure from the federal government has prompted the NCAA to have some very strict standards on student athletes and started holding them accountable for their success or failure in the classroom.

Again that has many parents thinking that these athletes are being treated unfairly but in all honesty the institutions of higher learning are only enforcing the contract that they signed with their athletes.

But why should this story have been on everyone’s lips over the holiday season? Why should anyone care what these students do with their educational opportunities?

This should have been a hot topic in every media format because academic ineligibility costs all of us money.

When you have the starting quarterback from Georgia Tech, a wide receiver from Tennessee or read about the complete forfeiture of a basketball season because players did not realize how serious those credit hours were to them playing for the school.

The mind-set of “I’m taking a free ride” is the very reason why such institutional controls have been implemented. Over the years there have been countless former college athletes who played for a school but who did not do a lick of college work in preparation for a degree.

And when it comes to the discrepancies between white athletes who graduate and black athletes who graduate, the numbers are so catastrophic that many schools have even instituted diversity programs to help curb this atrocious percentile.

But did you hear a single talk show host talk about the wasted opportunities that comes from being academically ineligible? Did you read any newspaper/magazine columnist’s rant of how embarrassing such a factor is to a person?

Did you surf the Internet and find any truly meaningful stories on this topic? In my own research I found a few columnists willing to speak on this topic but very few talk show hosts on the radio or television took the time to tell the audience the importance keeping the “student” in athlete sacred to his or her success on and off the field.

The United Negro College Fund has a slogan, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”. When college athletes are ineligible to play in these games, it shows that another young mind is being wasted. The collateral damage of such an action is insurmountable.

That is why it is important that sports media outlets keep this story hot. Equal coverage of this topic is just as important as a national title game; maybe more when it comes to college athletes staying in school for the right reasons and not just to play a sport.