What do you get when somebody whose most recent work is entitled “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy since 1960” turns his intellectual attention towards college athletics? Well, you get something like this: “By lowering academic standards for athletes, universities help to marginalize the intellectual enterprise.”
Of course, no mention is made of lowering academic standards for legacy cases or for those who benefit from the financial generosity of wealthy family members who make outsized contributions to get more favorable admissions treatment. And the author goes on to note that there are many cases of athletes who are students.
The problem is more specific, he writes.
But what about Division I football and men’s basketball, the big-time programs with revenues in the tens of millions of dollars that are a major source of their schools’ national reputation? Are the members of these teams typically students first?
I’m sure it’s mere coincidence that most of those he refers to there are poor and minorities (and usually come from crappy schools). Maybe that’s why he finds the easy solution to his problem is to ghettoize these kids academically.
… They could admit athletes who fall far short of their regular academic criteria as “associate students” (or maybe even “athlete-students”), who take just two or three courses a term and are not expected to receive a bachelor’s degree after four years. They would instead receive an associate’s degree (like that currently awarded by some colleges), which would, after four years, put them in a position to gain regular admission to a college where they could complete a bachelor’s degree in two more years. (There would, of course, still be athletes who met standard criteria of admission and so would be expected to earn a regular degree in four years.)
This would end the bad faith involved in pretending that unqualified students, devoted primarily to playing sports, could truly earn a bachelor’s degree. But it would also give a significant educational purpose to the under-qualified athlete’s four years on campus.
My bet is that most college coaches would love to have that option. And for those kids who could truly earn a bachelor’s degree if given the opportunity and support but would be directed into college lite? Tough shit, guys. We’ve got philosophy professors who don’t want to agonize over semantics to make happy. (Not to mention coaches who would prefer never having to worry about academic casualties again.)
Look, I’m not denying that there is a certain amount of delusion we all engage in here. I know what the high school situation is in this state and the academic caliber of many who enroll at Georgia to play football and basketball. But it seems to me that the bottom line here for any academic institution is to make sure of one thing – that in pursuing athletic success, no steps are taken that cheapen the degree I received. That’s why the Harricks never should have been allowed to step foot on campus. (And why on a larger scale, the NBA’s “one and done” rule should be ditched.)
Call ’em student-athletes, or athlete-students, if you care. I don’t. I just care that they make viable progress towards earning a degree in the time that they’re enrolled. If that takes extra academic support, so be it. For what they put in, they deserve it. (It’s not like those with better financial means can’t hire tutors, for that matter.) But every kid who makes it through and earns that bachelor’s degree is living proof that they all deserve that chance to succeed instead of being tossed onto an inferior track because some of us are squeamish about labels.