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Monday, March 17, 2008

Data. Data. Data. Data.

Data: This is a scam. There are a great number of things detailed in the Ann Arbor News article that are questionable and few that are anything more, but this is a scam:

Hagen set up independent study courses for two Michigan football players with just more than a month remaining in a semester. Rueben Riley and Gabe Watson dropped other classes and enrolled in an independent study course with Hagen on March 18, 2005.
Sucking a kid into an independent study with a month to go in the semester and then lobbing four B+ credits at Gabe Watson for writing a single twelve page paper that probably says “FEED ME SO HUNGRY WANT PORK CHOP” on at least six of those pages is something close to academic fraud. The university protests “this isn't Auburn” at one juncture in the article, but on the academic integrity continuum that extends from Vanderbilt on one end to Auburn on the other, that's a lot closer to Auburn.

Michigan is systematically funneling kids at risk of losing their eligibility into independent study courses of questionable content, and will in extreme cases fob some credits at players for four weeks of work in a 15 week semester. The Ann Arbor News establishes that.


Data: Mr. Bancroft, one of my history teachers in high school, was an odd bird, an elderly bald man with wild eyes and tattered ideals prone to grandiose pronouncements and strong opinions. A small but hopefully telling indicator: most people just called him “Bancroft,” even his students. Though he was naturally drawn to athletes, when the Quiz Bowl team – yrs truly a member, natch – needed a damn fool to drive us to Washington DC and be our chaperon so we could go about .500, eke into the single-elimination rounds, and get crushed by that goddamn Virginia magnet school, he volunteered. He was a nice guy.

When you are in a van for ten hours you naturally get to talking about various topics, and the subject of Theron Wilson came up during various debates. I don't remember why. But I do remember what Mr. Bancroft said.

Theron was a black kid from Detroit that Bancroft somehow had stumbled across – how was never explained – and kinda sorta taken in for a couple years. Theron was six foot eight. He was also a prop 48, ineligible to play as a freshman. He was the center on the inexplicably great Eastern Michigan teams featuring Earl Boykins. When the Eagles beat Duke in 1996, he had five blocks. A few months later he was selected in the draft, but the wrong draft: Theron was the La Crosse Bobcats' third round selection in the 1996 CBA draft.

A year later, we drove to Washington DC to play the white and Asian kids of Thomas Jefferson, that damn Virginia magnet school, and Theron Smith was driving a UPS truck. "I don't know," said Bancroft. "He's just hanging on."


Data: Michael Oher, star of Michael Lewis' The Blind Side. For the purposes of our conversation, the heart of the book has to do with Michael Oher's schooling, or lack thereof. For a variety of tragic (and probably sadly common) reasons, Oher mostly attends school when he feels like taking advantage of the free lunches provided. From ten to fifteen, Oher lives a virtually feral existence in a little slice of Somalia mysteriously transported into downtown Memphis. He decides he will be Michael Jordan, and he does not go to school, ever. After a quasi-year at a downtown Memphis quasi-high school, Oher is taken out to Briarcrest Academy, a Christian school in the white section of Memphis by a guy named “Big Tony”; Briarcrest hems and haws and decides that the Christian thing to do is have an enormous black guy play on the basketball team.

Oher eventually falls in with a Briarcrest supporter named Sean Tuohy, a former Ole Miss point guard turned rich white guy. The Tuohy family ends up adopting him, and Oher ends up commiting to Ole Miss February of his senior year of high school. Despite three years of nonstop private tutoring, Oher needs a telescope to see the grade point and test score combination the NCAA requires.

At this point, Tuohy spends a lot of money and time tracking down ways to fraud – there's really no other way to put, it – Michael Oher into Ole Miss, striking upon two separate gold mines: a friendly psychiatric clinic that gets Oher declared “learning disabled” mostly because he has an average IQ but hasn't learned anything yet, which allows Oher unlimited, guided, untimed attempts at standardized tests, and a series of “courses” BYU should be ashamed they offer: ten-day remote equivalency courses during which he has to read about famous personages and answer five questions about them. Each set of five questions cleared allows Oher to replace a semester of F with one of A.

Oher qualifies, and starts his freshman year at Ole Miss.

Michael Oher is a very large learning disabled man with approximately three years of actual schooling and a fraudulent academic transcript and Michael Lewis writes this about him in his afterword:
IN THE SEASON AFTER this book's publication Michael Oher started every game as Ole Miss's left tackle. The Ole miss football team was so consistently inept it was hard to believe anyone on it could be any good, but Michael's play landed him on the All-SEC second team, while his grade point average (3.75) landed him, for a semester, on the University of Mississippi Dean's list. (He was honored at halftime during one Ole Miss basketball game for his schoolwork.
#$*#! I didn't carry a 3.75. I knew I should have spent my middle school years roving around inner city projects trying not to get shot.


Data: erstwhile Michigan running back Max Martin, a native Michigander who moved to Alabama for the last few years of his high school career, got in trouble a lot, and it started early. When Michigan checked up on Martin's progress for the first time, they found that Martin hadn't gone to any of his classes. He told the curious coaches that he didn't know he had to go; none the kids he knew at SEC schools had to.

After a couple seasons of fumbling and off-field transgressions, Martin transferred to Alabama. Their coaches' character check was this: "is he in trouble with the law?" At that moment, he was not.


Martin lasted one semester in Tuscaloosa.


Data: I have a friend who is getting her PhD in a humanities field and, as such, spends much time being the best GSI any of her students will ever come across. She is deeply conflicted about the presence and purpose of athletes in her classes and across the university in general, and has presented the following pieces of information in our discussion on the subject.
  • When she was the GSI for a large lecture class, two football players three times her size were amongst her students. She was momentarily terrified of having authority issues, envisioning a future wherein the large recalcitrant men set a defiant example for the rest of the class, until she started talking and the two enormous guys were the first in the class to begin dutifully transcribing notes. Both were sweethearts, she says, and passed the class legitimately.
  • The professor running this class has a reputation for checking up on the progress of athletes in his classes and pulling those who are struggling into... yep... independent study classes.
  • Multiple times during the semester, athletic department representatives would drop by the class to make sure the enormous men were where their class schedules promised they would be.
Another semester, she was teaching freshman comp and had a men's swimmer fresh from high school, who struggled badly. At one point he tearfully confessed that he was overwhelmed. Practice was hard. School was hard. Travel was hard. Everything was hard, so hard, and he couldn't just quit one or the other and what was he going to do?


Data. Football takes lots of time:
Division I-A football players reported spending an average of 44.8 hours per week on their sport. That doesn't include the hours involved in taking care of their academic responsibilities.
Any school other than Duke or Vandy or Stanford will take any player who meets NCAA minimums that, on a non-athlete application, would be laughed out of the admissions office, and Duke and Vandy and Stanford (and the Ivy leagues) all bend their admissions standards severely. The NCAA has instituted punishments for schools that do not keep their players in school and on track for a degree.

End data.