Friday, July 14, 2006

“I have never heard of anything of this magnitude in any discipline at any university.”

Wait a second, you mean to tell me that Auburn football players don't really outperform Vandy's players in the classroom? Wha? Three credit hours for reading one book in the middle of a semester? One professor supervising 152 directed reading classes? Sounds perfectly normal to me.

I'm anxious to hear the reaction from the, uh, more defensive elements of the Auburn fan base. I'm expecting the following elements:

1. "The New York Times is a damned liberal paper and can't be trusted."

2. "Jayson Blair! Jayson Blair! Jayson Blair!"

3. "Didn't that jackass Bammer fan Warren St. John write for the Times? See, this is just another Bammer plot to keep us down!"

[Update: This defense hits all three notes. I would laud my prediction if it wasn't just me stating the obvious, which is that defensive Auburn fans would try to kill the messenger.]

4. "Let's wait to hear what Bobby Lowder says before we rush to conclusions."

5. "Honk if you sacked Brodie!"

In all seriousness, while this episode does provide a fine opportunity to mock Auburn (an especially nice privilege after they beat Georgia the past two years), there ought to be a serious "there but for the grace of G-d go any of our programs" before we open our mouths. College football, like most sports, rests upon certain fictions and one of them is that players who come to college with 2.0 GPAs from academically backwards high schools and 900 SATs can stay eligible for four years while spending a tremendous amount of time on football. Michigan doesn't have a history that includes winning a national title on probation or coaches directly paying players on tape or the school being placed on academic probation for being run by one particular booster, so I don't think that anything quite so brazen goes on at my alma mater. Michigan also has the good fortune of not having the Alabama public school system, one of the most chronically underfunded in the country thanks to a regressive tax system, as its primary recruiting base (although UM does recruit heavily from the Detroit PSL, which isn't exactly noted for running up the test scores). That said, I'd have my head in the sand to think that a number of Michigan players don't get assistance to stay eligible that at least falls into a gray area. And this is true for every major program.

Update: here is the AJC's article on the subject. If I were an Auburn fan, I'd be very relieved to know that the father of two Auburn players thinks that everything is on the up and up there. The article also answers one of the three key questions being asked by Paul Westerdawg: what did Professor Thomas Petee have to gain by giving players good grades without requiring any work? Professor James Gundlach, the whistle-blower in the episode, thinks that Petee was "groupie-esque" around players and that the way to advance at Auburn was to be friendly to the athletic program. Paul also argues that the key to the scandal will be a player coming out and saying that he didn't do the work. I don't necessarily agree because the circumstantial evidence here - so many players taking independent study courses from one professor and getting higher grades than they got anywhere else - is so strong. Based on the experience of the NCAA's investigation into Tennessee's grade-fixing scandal, I think the key question is slightly different: were these light reading classes only available to athletes? That's the important question from the NCAA's perspective. Tennessee got off the hook, despite hard evidence that players regularly had their grades changed to stay eligible, because they were able to convince the NCAA that regular students had the same ability to petition successfully to have their grades changed. Will Auburn be able to make the same showing?


peacedog said...

After all the shit the Matthews brothers gave me for Harrick-gate, it's on.

Anonymous said...

To answer your final question, read the article. Over 75% of those who took Petee's IS were non-athletes.
Harrick-gate stunk because it was a member of the coaching staff; here we have a professor handing out grades to anyone who wanted them.

Michael said...

But the question remains whether those other students had to do work for their independent studies classes, but regular students did not. And could regular students sign up in the second half of the semester the way one Auburn DE did?

Fox said...

Are you guys seriously having a debate over how much Auburn academically cheats to keep its athletes eligible? I love college football as much as the next guy but I can't imagine doing so with any illusions that the players I'm rooting for are really student-athletes. Some are, some (OK, most) aren't. But all schools, excepting maybe the Ivys and a few others, cheat in one way or another. (Michael, do you remember when that UVA DE, Dingle, rolled up to play basketball in a Navigator. I'm sure he bought that with his summer job money. Really.) It's all just a matter of degree. I think Michael's post was about the right tone--we can hope for the best but everyone's bending/breaking at least some rules.

OK, I'll hop off my cynical soap box now.