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Athletes face double standard

On the front page of The Tuscaloosa News on 29 November 2005, an article written by, of all news services – are you ready for this? – The New York Times headlined the fact that there is a high school “diploma mill” operating out of my hometown, Miami, Florida.

Essentially, it is a rather sordid story geared directly toward the continued assault on college athletics directed by America’s most liberal newspaper.

The teaming-up of a Deep South newspaper with this kind of northeastern “establishment media source” seemed incongruous to me at first.

Ah, but then, I read further.

It seems as though the conscientious “investigators” at The Times had come upon a yarn too juicy to avoid.

Not only did it slam college athletic programs, but it took a real shot at the legitimacy of some athletes even being on college campuses.

And now here’s the kicker – since Auburn was one of the universities who had admitted one of the students who had received high school credit from this diploma mill, it was easier for The News to run the piece.

In fact, the editorial page even took a shot at Auburn – perhaps four years in a row was just too much for Tuscaloosa to fathom.

But that is not the real story, although it does make for an interesting “story within a story.”

No, the real story is the fact that in an era which is so graduation-oriented for college athletes, the NCAA established its “Clearinghouse” to screen and qualify prospective college student-athletes.

This Clearinghouse is operated by the ACT in Iowa.

Now, the Clearinghouse is a step in the right direction for qualifying high school students to get into college, and when I was Assistant Athletic Director at Auburn I had many dealings with the good folks at the Clearinghouse.

Its function is to qualify high school students based upon their Grade Point Averages in 14 “Core Courses”, including four units of high school English, two units of math, two units of natural (lab) science, two units of social science, one unit of additional English, math, or natural science, and three units of additional courses from any area above of from such disciplines as foreign language, religion, philosophy, or computer science.

The GPA in the Core Courses is then cross-referenced against a test score, either the ACT or the SAT, and the index of what is known as “Initial Eligibility” is established.

If a high school student has a higher GPA, then a lower test score is required, and vice-versa.

But every high school student who wants to play in a NCAA Division I institution must make at least a 2.0 GPA, regardless of the test score.

The juicy part of the story is that two enterprising men found a “loop hole” in the process and established University High School in Miami.

The founder was charged in Arizona with mail fraud in connection with a college diploma mill, and the man to whom he sold University High was arrested on marijuana possession charges and still has an outstanding warrant on him.

Rather nefarious credentials to establish academic credibility, indeed.

Still, University High was approved by the Clearinghouse as a legitimate high school credit granting entity, even though it is not accredited by any Regional Accrediting Agency recognized by the U. S. Department of Education.

But the truly sad fact is that high school student-athletes must go through this process at all.

Granted it is the result of abuses by many institutions in the past for taking advantage of youngsters whose only viable credentials rest in the arena of athletic competition.

It is more an indictment of what high schools are doing to prepare their students for college, than it is a judgment of those colleges and universities who allow them to represent the institutions in the fields of athletic competition.

In short, no band member who is on scholarship must submit to this kind of scrutiny, nor are members of any other social function sponsored by institutions of higher learning.

It is only the student-athletes, those same youngsters who put so much time into game and physical preparation, who must undergo such vetting.

Yes, the same gridiron gladiators who bring in millions of dollars to the individual institutions, and billions – yes, spelled with a “B” – to college athletics and the NCAA as a whole.

And each year sometime in early to mid-February, we hear the same question about football recruits – “Did he qualify?”

There seems to me, as it always has, that there is a gross double-standard imposed here.

We demand a great deal of our college student-athletes.

First, they must pass the “Initial Eligibility” hurdle, and then they must maintain a given GPA with a given number of credit hours passed to remain eligible to participate.

And even then, there is no guarantee that they will be graduated.

The upshot of all this palaver is to point out that sooner or later someone out there was going to figure a way to take advantage of the system so that youngsters whose high school preparation has been far less than acceptable could qualify to fulfill the only dream they have ever had to escape the doldrums of the environments from which they come.

We all have dreams and our Country’s Founders all agreed that we should have a culture in which advancement is based on merit, not birthright.

And while some may damn the NCAA for establishing standards, it seems only fair that it be done in a fashion which does not steal the dreams of our youth.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.