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OPINION - Sour on college sports

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve been sour on college sports for awhile now. Not sour enough to stop following it. But I’m totally aware that I’m watching a farce. If college football and basketball players were given the choice of not going to class and not earning a degree – just playing for four years – I’m certain there are many who would take the offer.

My first clue was the sad case of Herman Hareed. He was a bench-warming basketball player at Syracuse; a fifth-year senior when I was a freshman. He was easily identifiable, built more like a football player than a basketball player. He and I were in the same Economics 101 class. It was impossible to escape Economics 101. It was a basic class that was required for practically every major. It was inconceivable that someone could wait until their senior year before having to take the class. I have no idea whether Herman graduated. I went to play basketball in Europe.

Two years ago Syracuse had two basketball players suspended for simply not showing up for classes. Fab Melo knew he’d go the NBA draft as soon as his senior season ended. His no-show academic status was discovered on the eve of the NCAA tournament. He quit the team, signed with an agent, and left school in a matter of weeks. Teammate James Southerland, with similar poor classroom attendance, was suspended by the team after the NCAA began investigating athletes who weren’t really students.

There’s an undeniable truth that very few athletes meet the academic standards to get into the schools they attend. I needed very good grades and high prep scores. Those requirements don’t count for people who can shoot, block, rebound or score.

I loved watching Syracuse basketball and football while I was a student there. But now I realize that the charade that the athletic department plays makes the college degrees I hold less valuable. The university that gives me my academic credentials turns a blind eye in the name of winning games.

All of this is small potatoes compared to Oklahoma State University. OSU is the subject of a five-part expose by Sports Illustrated. The allegations: OSU players were paid by boosters and assistant coaches based on their game stats. OSU players had tutors write term papers and take tests for them, and got passing grades from football-friendly associate professors. OSU players regularly used marijuana and cocaine, with some acting as on-campus drug dealers. And some OSU high school recruits received sexual favors from female co-eds acting as hospitality-hosts.

The SI report is damning. Several players who graduated from Oklahoma State are functionally illiterate. (One spelled “house” “H-U-S”.) There are far too many on-the-record interviews for the allegations to be dismissed. And much of this comes because the OSU made a conscious decision to improve its football program a decade ago. Apparently football wins came at the expense of academic standards.

What college athletics today is missing is Father John Lo Schiavo. He was the President of the University of San Francisco, and he dared to shut down the school’s basketball program because it became an embarrassment to his school. They were a winning team – second only to UCLA on west-coast  – but was constantly mired in academic and off-court scandals. He saw his university as it should be: an institution defined by academics. Sports was, and should be, extracurricular.

Chris Conley
9.16.13