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The NCAA Can't Win When It Comes to Academic Reform

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Frank Deford may think the NCAA is an "evil overseer to its athletic ↵minions" -- yes, ↵he literally said that word-for-word and wasn't kidding even a little ↵bit -- but at least they've been trying to make the "student" in the ↵student-athlete thing more relevant of late. ↵
↵A couple of years ago, the NCAA introduced the Academic Progress Rate, a ↵nationwide program that monitors graduation rates and punishes schools ↵that fail to meet a fairly generous minimum (60 percent). To date, it's mostly ↵hit smaller schools that don't have ↵the resources to take in the academically questionable and shepherd them ↵through college, but this offseason three Big Ten basketball ↵programs -- Indiana, Purdue, and Ohio State -- got socked with reductions. It's not ↵just a tool to beat up on Cleveland State anymore. ↵
↵This has been met with considerable praise: ↵
↵⇥"Right now," says Gerald Gurney, president-elect of the more than ↵⇥1,000-member National Association of Academic Advisors for ↵⇥Athletics, "academic reform needs to be reformed." ↵⇥
↵⇥It isn't the first time Gurney, a senior associate athletics ↵⇥director at the University of Oklahoma, has raised his voice. But ↵⇥his year-long position with the advisers group gives him a new ↵⇥national platform, and he says he'll use it to push the NCAA for ↵⇥changes. His concern, he says, is "commonplace ... for those on the ↵⇥ground working with student-athletes." ↵
↵...and by "considerable praise" we mean "complaining." ↵
↵Gurney's main concern is cheating of the sort that saw Florida State get ↵(lightly) sanctioned: ↵
↵⇥"Think about the terror a poorly prepared student-athlete must feel ↵⇥... in the classroom. Imagine how that affects their daily lives," ↵⇥he ↵⇥says. "It's a far more formidable opponent than anything they'll ↵⇥face on the court or on the field. Is there any doubt we have higher ↵⇥incidents of academic dishonesty?" ↵
↵His argument: a half-dozen years ago the NCAA moved from one ↵standardized-test minimum from sea to shining sea to a "sliding scale" ↵that took your GPA into account. Rock a 3.7 and the minimum test score ↵you have to achieve to become eligible is far lower than someone limping ↵around with a 2.2. If you've ever seen a crappy movie about high school ↵athletes you know that high school grades can be vaguely positive ↵suggestions about the potential of Johnny Quarterback if he ever showed up ↵in class. Therefore this represents a significantly lower hurdle for a ↵lot of athletes to clear. ↵
↵Less Qualified Students + Higher Pressure To Graduate = Cheatin'. Okay, ↵yeah, I see where he's going there, and think he's right that academic ↵fraud cases will see an upswing in the future. ↵
↵But isn't that preferable to a world in which no one cheats because it ↵doesn't matter enough to care? I'd like to see NCAA schools forced to spend ↵a lot of money keeping their athletes on track for a degree. I'd like ↵smaller schools that willfully take players they know they cannot keep ↵eligible to be punished for having those players fail to make it. If an ↵increase in cheating is the price, I'm willing to pay it.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.