Editor’s Desk

A disservice to athletes?

January 17, 2014 

I cannot condone the exploitation of young men and women for their athletic prowess. Nor can I condone the lengths to which colleges will go to keep their student athletes in school. But are colleges wrong to recruit students who will likely struggle to do college work?

Last weekend, I asked that question of family and friends, and all said colleges were in the wrong. I’m not as sure.

Granted, it doesn’t make much sense for colleges to recruit and admit students who cannot do college work. But it’s true that not all students who go to college are cut out for college. If they were, the graduation rate would be closer to 100 percent than the actual 59 percent. (According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 59 percent of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school in fall 2005 earned a degree within six years.)

But never mind that student athletes graduate at a much higher rate than 59 percent. I wonder about the alternatives to college for high school athletes who struggle in the classroom. Recently, we’ve all read the claim that some UNC-Chapel Hill athletes read at no better than an eighth-grade level. But if not college, what do such students do after graduating from high school? Are they really better off in a menial job or on a street corner? Just asking.

The other question no one is asking is why students are graduating from high school without being able to read on a high school level. If the claims about reading skills are true, maybe the public schools are reluctant to fail kids who can’t master the material. Or maybe they are complicit in awarding diplomas so that young men and women can play collegiate sports.

Either way, if the colleges are exploiting student athletes, then the public schools are failing them, and yet no one is questioning the role of high schools in the apparent scandal that is big-time college sports.

I don’t mean to hold colleges harmless in that scandal. UNC-Chapel Hill, for one, has cheated, and its football program has been rightly punished; maybe other programs are guilty too. All I’m saying is that the public schools share in the blame but are getting a free pass and that a college campus isn’t the worst place for a young person to be.

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