Distillation and Distributuion makes the grade

A narrow focus today.

First, the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) data is out, and it's pretty boring. You can sift through the numbers on NCAA.org if you like, but the only thing that affects Tennessee is this: we're losing four-hundredths of a baseball scholarship for not meeting standards in that sport, otherwise, we're clean. The only I-A football programs being penalized are barely playing I-A ball anyway: FIU, MTSU, UAB, UL-Laf, Arizona, UNLV, Toledo, and W. Mich. It would have been exciting if say, Notre Dame or Florida had lost some schollys, but alas.

There are those who think these APR numbers are trumped up and insignificant. Among them are Birmingham News columnist Ray Melick, who writes:

It is worth remembering that APR says nothing about the quality of education athletes are receiving. Yes, athletes are meeting eligibility standards. But what does that mean?
It's a good point, student-athletes making the grade are quantified by the APR but not qualified by any sort of universal standard. It's like the No Child Left Behind Act for those of us familiar with primary and secondary education in America. Federal law says that students must meet certain academic standards, but it's up to each state to determine how those standards are measured. In the same way, the NCAA is telling colleges that their athletes must be working toward a degree, but has no say in how rigorous that work must be. That's a point Melick takes issue with:
So the University of Tennessee can change football players' grades, as long as the school also routinely changes grades for regular students, and the NCAA can't object. And Auburn University can offer courses in sociology that require little to no classwork, and as long as non-athletes can take the same courses the same way, the NCAA is powerless to act.
Wait, did he just imply that Tennessee is changing athletes' grades? That son of a ...
It isn't just Tennessee and Auburn. Recent studies have shown that athletes all over the country tend to cluster in certain classes and majors on certain campuses, classes and majors in which those athletes are more likely to maintain NCAA standards of eligibility without compromising athletic requirements - a move that actually penalizes athletes with academic ambition.
Cheap shot from the Alabama guy aside, here's where Melick and I part ways. Yes, it is entirely up to each college to set its own standards of rigor and grading. The last time I checked, neither of the As in NCAA stood for "accreditation." There are groups like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) that take care of that. Whether you want to be a clown college that pumps out NFLers or psudo-Ivy League, it's your prerogative.

Another thing: whatever "recent study" that proves athletes are taking "easy" classes and majors reminds me of the Harvard study that shows college students are likely to binge drink, in that neither study needed to be done. In both cases, a lot of money could have been saved by just hanging out on a college campus and seeing what's going on. But in the case of athletes being mainstreamed into "easy" majors, isn't that better than those young men (and women) getting no exposure to higher education at all?

In my years of college, I never found a class where I could do literally nothing and pass (and believe me, I tried). You gotta show up and do something to get credit. And if there are classes where literally nothing is being done for credit, it's an issue for people like SACS and not the NCAA (unless the classes are only being offered to athletes).

Melick also has a problem with what he sees as schools manipulating the APR

[B]y such means as discouraging football players from enrolling in spring semester if they are considering turning pro, and taking advantage of the NCAA waiver that says if an athlete leaves school in good standing and signs a professional contract, the school is not penalized for his early exit.
I'll skip the argument about how we'd all leave school yearly for millions of dollars and go straight to "duh, if the student is in good standing when he leaves, why would he count against the school's APR?" How about rewarding teams for athletes who leave in good standing and come back to finish their degree? In essence, hasn't the school prepared them for two careers?

For those interested in academic reform, I have to think that the APR is better than nothing, which is what we've had in the past. It's like dirt that has been swept under the rug for years, and now the rug is being removed and the dirt now has to be dealt with. Some will chose to push the dirt into other corners, but in many cases it will be cleaned up. Maybe Melick's right, maybe I'm not being cynical enough about this. But as an alumnus who cares about both the academic and athletic reputations of Tennessee, I say any move towards some sort of academic responsibility is a move in the right direction.

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