(Guest post by Jonathan Butcher)
As I look forward to the New Year, a year in which I will celebrate my 18th birthday for the 14th time, I resolve once again to pursue a long-held dream: to play quarterback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I know, I know, 18 is a young age to expect to play QB for such a competitive program, but their starter from this season is leaving for the NFL—so they have an opening. Plus, they just hired a new coach who ran a successful program at the University of Cincinnati (Brian Kelly), so things are looking up.
Irish wins are little scarcer than in the late ‘80’s, when they regularly competed for the top ranking in the AP poll…actually, they’re a lot scarcer. ND hasn’t competed for a national championship since the early ‘90’s, when Clinton was president and the public hadn’t been introduced to Monica Lewinsky and an “iPod” was a plot element rumored for Alien 3. With expectations set so high, it has been a painful new millennium of average Irish teams, for the most part.
ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback gave me something to be proud of as an Irish fan yesterday, though, confirming a suspicion I’ve held as a badge of honor taken out and polished every fall for the past several years to console myself after Michigan and USC thrash the Irish once again: ND requires their players to be students, as well as athletes. Most major programs do not, contends TMQ’s Gregg Easterbrook.
Maybe the sports artificial universe won’t face the uncomfortable reality that the NCAA system uses football and men’s basketball players to generate revenue and great games — then tosses way too many of these players aside uneducated. It’s a lot more fun to talk about winning and losing than to talk about education.
He goes on:
In the past two decades, there’s been a race to the bottom, in which many football-factory schools have lowered academic standards for football and men’s basketball, dropping any pretense of education in pursuit of wins.
Today, between 70% and 80% of the players on major college football teams—programs that regularly compete for the national championship like Oklahoma, Miami, and Ohio State—will never play a down in the NFL. In fact, 90 percent of the players in all of Division I college football will not play in the NFL. Easterbrook writes, “Take into account that some of the NFL rookies are Division II, Division III or NAIA players, and it’s closer to 95 percent… If they don’t study and don’t go to class, they walk away from college football practically empty-handed.”
This is a shame not only because the college athletes are being used by adults they have trusted with their future, but also because there is evidence that schools can have high recruiting and educational standards. TMQ notes that many schools with strong academic reputations such as Georgia Tech, the University of California, the US Naval Academy and Northwestern are headed to bowl games this year. TMQ also points to a study forthcoming in the Review of Economics and Statistics linking high academic and athletic achievement among females.
Unfortunately, between reading the TMQ article yesterday and sitting down to write today, the punch line to my post has mysteriously vanished. After praising ND for holding out against the trend among major programs to lower academic standards for their football team, Easterbrook wrote, “Rumor has it Brian Kelly’s deal to replace [former ND coach Charlie] Weis includes Notre Dame’s agreeing to lower its academic standards for top football recruits. If so, this is a sad, sad day for Notre Dame, and for college football.” Interestingly, this line was gone from the article when I read it this morning (though a quick search finds the sentence, verbatim, in at least one person’s Twitter feed). Now, my illusion of a perfect college football institution can remain intact, thanks to ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who appears to have replaced Tiger Woods as sovereign supreme over the sports media.
Pipe dreams and conspiracy theories aside, the NCAA and participating athletic programs should be forced to answer for what is happening at, say, Florida State, where “a suspiciously high percentage of football players have been classified as learning disabled, which creates exemptions from already lax academic requirements.” Maybe committing itself to a remedy can be the NCAA’s New Year’s resolution, but with the amount of money generated in college sports, it’s more likely that I’ll be wearing a gold helmet next September. Go Irish!