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If you weren’t one of those who watched Tuesday night’s HBO Real Sports report “investigation” into the deficiencies associated with student-athletes and academics, I’d suggest your time was much better served in not having done so than those of us who did watch. As expected, the footage of Oklahoma’s campus scattered throughout the preview clip released last week was simply a ploy to hype a report that featured very little new information. And while it did include the University of Oklahoma, specifically a former player in Eric Mensik and a current professor in Dr. Gerald Gurney, OU’s involvement — at least with respect to what made it to air — was minimal at best.
However, that has not prevented just about everyone from having an opinion on the subject. As you might expect, some are much more rational and intelligent than others. Although somewhat brief, I though Allen Kenney of Blatant Homerism offered a very sound take on things (as he typically does, in my opinion). I also found this Q&A the Tulsa World’s Guerin Emig did with Gabe Ikard to be an incredibly good read. And I thought Bob Stoops did an excellent job of addressing the report both after Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday morning during an interview with the Sports Animal.
Among the variety of things he had to say on the subject (which I’ll get to in a second), he made what I thought was a simply, yet incredibly important point.
You get out of college what you want to. That’s not only football or athletes, it’s any student – you get out of it what you want to.
Like I said, pretty simply yet it rings so true. Stoops then went on to say:
We get young guys from a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of them tough backgrounds, disadvantaged backgrounds, some of them great backgrounds, but when you meld them all together on a team and they have to learn to respect everybody and learn ‘Hey, I’m not on the streets on Detroit; this is a college campus and how we operate,’ then all of a sudden they may get it. 99% of the guys get it and have an amazing experience. They realize the different cultures and different teammates and different people they are with in the dorm. They grow from it. It’s a great experience going to college. The ones that take advantage of it have a great, great experience.
We implemented a class policy in 2003 or 2004 where if you miss over three classes in a period of time, you’re suspended from the game. You guys know that we’ve had guys suspended for missing class. So in the end, Eric said that in that piece but they didn’t show that, about how stringent we are in our program about going to class and your academic appointments. And if you miss a certain number of them, you’re suspended from practice and you’re suspended from games. But of course, that wouldn’t have gone along with the story they were trying to play.
Before the interview shifted back to the football field (they didn’t cover much, but you can listen at the link I provided above), Stoops also made a point to address the NCAA’s APR rule which many believe has been inherently flawed from its outset:
One other thing… The APR rules, the academic progress rules and those kinds of things, they inhibit a guy sometimes from taking a chance on a tougher major or tougher classes because then if he fails, he is taken off the field, maybe kicked out of school, may get his scholarship.
Therefore, if you’re struggling or if you’re not mentally capable of taking a certain course, it kind of intimidates you from taking it for fear that you may become ineligible or losing a scholarship. They force that part of it – it’s a little bit of a catch-22, they force a guy to take a different major because of the fear of failure.
And just because you major is a certain field doesn’t mean you are going to stay in that field as a professional.
Maybe the announcement on Tuesday from the university, preceding the HBO report, regarding a trio of Oklahoma student-athletes — two of whom were football players — being awarded postgraduate grants to continue pursuing their education was a well-timed coincidence. I seriously doubt it, but I suppose anything is possible. However, my point in even bringing it up is HBO could have just as easily spoken with someone like Gabe Ikard or Trey Millard, or even Kendal Thompson who graduated in three years. The reason they weren’t, I presume, is because their story did not fit the narrative HBO was trying to push.
Is this current system perfect? Absolutely not, far from it. I suspect anyone with a brain would be willing to admit that. But it’s also not nearly as black-and-white as the HBO report would seem to suggest. It’s not just two extremes where you have a group of college student-athletes reading at a fourth grade level, while you have another group putting up a 4.0 GPA.
There are any number of factors to take into consideration. How responsible are the high schools? What about the advantages (tutors, note-takers, etc.) provided to student-athletes that are not provided to a typical student? How responsible can you hold someone for a learning disability? At I’m sure that is just barely scratching the surface. So, like I said, a lot of gray area in there.
Is it easy, given the considerable demands on their time, for a student-athlete to select a challenging degree program and maintain the necessary grades to both stay qualified and graduate? No, it will very likely be difficult. Just as it is difficult for any number of ‘normal’ college students, who don’t play a sport, to do the exact same.
As Stoops said, “you get out of it what you want to.” There are countless examples of student-athletes, both on the OU campus and across the country, who counter what was presented in the HBO report.
So while it may not be easy, as the saying goes, few things in life worth having rarely are.