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Thursday, July 31, 2014 | Last updated: 8:36am

Student athletes shortchanged in academic arena



Recently, it was revealed that a basketball player at the University of North Carolina received an A grade in a class where his only assignment was to turn in a “paper” about Rosa Parks that was just 146 words long. Not only did this paper consist of barely 10 sentences, but it also reads like it was written by a kid who googled Rosa Parks for a fifth-grade homework assignment. As it turns out, UNC athletes are encouraged to enroll in sham classes that only require one paper for the entire semester, allowing them to pass with comically minimal effort and boost their GPAs in order to meet the requirements to participate in games.

The idea of schools letting athletes sail through their academic careers in order to be able to compete with their teams isn’t a new concept. A similar scandal with athletes enrolling in “independent studies” classes was uncovered at the University of Michigan, and many studies have shown that student-athletes tend to, and are encouraged to, cluster around relatively undemanding majors. Even Stanford University once pinned up a list of “easy courses” that were recommended for athletes who didn’t want to study too hard, although the school had to take it down once it stirred up too much controversy.

Very few athletes or teachers would want to admit to such behavior, but it’s undoubtedly the case for many: All the athletes really hope to get out of college is to make it into the world of professional sports, and the school that offers them a full ride only does so because of the tremendous amount of revenue that sporting events bring to a university.

Now, just so we’re clear: I’m not saying all athletes are dumb. I’m sure a lot of them are very intelligent, and can do more than just toss a ball around. My concern is that when some of these athletes can’t keep their grades up and people make cushy adjustments for them, the academic world is being made into an awful joke.

So many students that attend a university either had to drop a lot of hard-earned money on their education or plunge themselves into massive debt. These students work themselves raw, and in comparison, football and basketball players are being churned through the system and receiving their degrees for much less effort in their respective fields.

The situation has been stagnant for a while. According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the graduation rate for both football and men’s basketball in the NCAA broke 70 percent for the first time back in 2012. Despite this, both of these sports still have the lowest graduation rate out of all the other Division I sports.

Sadly, that same year, the UA was second-to-last in student-athlete graduation rates in the Pac-12 Conference, at 53 percent. Our school has definitely been slouching in this area. We do have set requirements, as per the Student-Athlete handbook: a minimum of a 2.0 GPA, penalties for unexcused absences and, of course, the same rules that apply to everyone about plagiarism. But these requirements are awfully minimal; a GPA of 2.0 is what is expected of everyone.

It’s also unsettling that these athletes are in a system that just treats them as cash cows. They don’t receive any of the money that the university makes off of their sporting events, and to top it off, many of them don’t receive a real education either — even though higher education is what they are promised in exchange for being a valuable member of the team.

It must be insanely stressful to have to compete in a team while also keeping up with schoolwork, and there isn’t much reward to make up for it. There’s no guarantee that college athletes will get into the NBA or NFL after giving all their blood and sweat to their team. According to Business Insider, less than 2 percent of college athletes who play football or basketball make it into the pros.

If student-athletes’ grades suffer too much and they don’t graduate, or if they end up with a degree in a field they couldn’t care less about, they’ll be in a very bad situation. Athletes must understand that there needs to be a backup route in case things don’t work out, and to look at their education as something to be cherished and not just a chore to put up with while they play ball. I’m sure not all college athletes are enamored with the dream of making it big, but the ones that are need be wary of what the odds are.

Jesus Luna Tarazon is a senior studying English. Follow him @DailyWildcat


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