Bad education a common feature of college basketball

Institutions pay scant regard to educating the athletes who make them millions

Fab Melo (number 51) of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Fab Melo (number 51) of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

 

March Madness. The Big Dance. Sweet Sixteen. Selection Sunday. The Final Four. The annual knockout tournament to decide the best college basketball team in America goes by different names and inspires a colourful jargon of its own but all of the hyperbole appears justified. For much of the next month, people with very little interest in sport will cheer lustily for schools they’ve never heard of and bet money they don’t have on match-ups they don’t quite understand.

Workplaces will obsess over the office pool and every fan, including President Barack Obama in his now annual appearance on ESPN, will attempt to master bracketology, the peculiar science of trying to predict the winners of each game involving the 65 teams who qualify. It’s like an elongated, considerably larger version of Cheltenham, with one crucial difference. The players who will captivate this country have more in common with horses than jockeys, they don’t earn a dime for their trouble.

CBS pay $770 million a year to broadcast the ratings-grabbing behemoth from next Tuesday but the guys on the court render their services in return for receiving scholarships to the colleges they represent. In a country where four years on a decent campus can set you back quarter of a million bucks, that was always considered a fair exchange and a good deal. Except, more and more, we are learning a lot of these institutions pay such scant regard to educating the athletes who make them millions that many leave without graduating and some without even developing basic literacy.

That was the damning conclusion of a recent report into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, basketball powerhouse and alma mater of a roster of NBA stars headed up by Michael Jordan. After a whistleblower claimed one in 10 athletes were departing the college reading at the level of nine-year-olds, an investigation found evidence of players receiving A grades for courses they never attended as part of what was known as “the shadow curriculum”.

All that mattered

UNC are not alone in this regard. Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctioned Syracuse University for a decade of rule-breaking around its basketball team.

Extraordinary efforts

Fab Melo

With 20 other colleges currently under investigation, none of this is new. More than a decade ago, the University of Georgia became a national laughing stock when it emerged their basketball players were receiving full academic credit for a course called “Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball”. Taught by one of the assistant-coaches, the final exam included humdinger questions like “How many halves are in a basketball game?” and “How much is a three-point basket worth?”. One way of ensuring the athletes graduate, albeit with worthless degrees and very little education.

Last April, University of Connecticut was crowned national basketball champions for the third time in a decade. An achievement that might have been easier to applaud except less than eight per cent of the squad was expected to leave college with a diploma. That statistic was used to hammer Connecticut by those campaigning to highlight the immorality of so much collegiate sport. These critics have also pointed out that Africa-American student-athletes tend to suffer way more at these misguided institutions than their white counterparts.

None of this will matter to fans of the University of Kentucky between now and the title decider on April 6th in Indianapolis. After winning 31 games from 31 in the regular season, they are the hottest of favourites to win the whole thing, boasting a squad so overloaded with talent that their bench is reckoned to be better than most other teams’ starting fives. They attracted the best players by giving up all pretence of wanting them to ever walk across a stage in a mortar and gown.

Definite truth

John Calipari

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