Normally the phrase is "Student Athlete", but when it comes to UConn men's basketball, the operative order is "Athlete Student". The latest casualty is UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, who is forgoing a final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft. Story here. This is the same guy who was promised by UConn coach Jim Calhoon to be made a "national champion and a millionaire". Well it looks like maybe one of those two things might come true. No mention in the article about whether or not Thabeet will earn his degree (insert laugh here => _____________ ).
On a related note, here's an interesting citation from a Boston Globe article, dated March 17, 2009:
We will know the world is truly changing when politicians write letters and make statements that embarrassing graduation rates for their flagship university basketball team are unacceptable. UConn also should not be in the tournament with a graduation rate of 22 percent for its African-American players and only 33 percent for the whole team.
You can read the full article here. Basically it amounts to this: If you are an African American teenager who attends UConn to play basketball...regardless of where the sport takes you professionally...the odds are stacked against you relative to your actually graduating. How much against you? As noted above, on average, 78% of African American UConn basketball players never graduate.
Think about that for a moment. For many kids who enter programs like the one at UConn, basketball is the only chance they have of actually earning a college degree. By and large this are not individuals coming from wealthy families that otherwise would be able to afford the kind of education that a UConn could provide. Yet for the love of "winning", someone like Jim Calhoon is basically allowed to run what amounts to a jock factory...an NBA minor league team...all in the name of "Student Athletics".
If you are a fan of college sports this should make you shake your head in disgust. If you care about the young men who play sports at schools like this you should be pissed off. It's as simple as that.
Now the news is not all bad in the world of college sports. According the the NCAA, the graduation rate for Penn State football players is 83%, making it the third highest among public schools in the nation. Article here. Penn State is not alone. Notre Dame traditionally has a high graduation rate as well.
The NCAA, in it's quest to make this information as cryptic as possible, actually publishes graduation rate statistics. Just don't actually try to do any side-by-side comparisons. You can find the NCAA's reports at this link:
Here's my bottom line on all of this:
Colleges and Universities exist to education young men and women. Period. End of story. When they don't do that, they fail in their mission. Athletics is a tradition filled, exciting part of the college experience, but it is secondary to what colleges and universities actually do. It's time to stop giving the UConns of this world as pass. If a university can't graduate more than say half of it's players (and even that's a low standard), then it's time to stop enabling that behavior and ban the school from any post-season play. Unlike the sports I've referenced, education ISN'T a game. For many young men and women, it's the only real chance they will ever have to achieve true success in life.
Athlete students indeed.