NCAA President Needs To Get A Clue

Phillip Marshall writes opinion pieces about Auburn and SEC athletics.

Years ago, when Proposition 48 was much in the news, someone asked Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson how many of his players would graduate.

"All that want to," Sanderson answered.

I thought it was a great answer then and I think it is now. The truth is that college athletes are given all the tools necessary to earn college degrees. With few exceptions, if they don't do it, it's because they didn't want to.

That's why I grow weary of the rhetoric of NCAA president Myles Brand and other so-called reformers.

Every SEC school's athletics department devotes massive resources to academics. A $6.2 million academic center is under construction at Auburn. Study halls are required. Progress is closely monitored. Tutors are available on request. The result? Auburn has one of the top graduation rates in the SEC.

Yet, Brand and others insist on manufacturing a crisis where there is no crisis. Some people go to college and don't graduate. It's a fact of life. Only if it is an athlete who doesn't graduate is the "system" held accountable.

In Brand's world, there would be no wonderful stories like that of Marquis Daniels, who overcame the longest of odds and earned an Auburn degree in three and a half years. He wouldn't get in school.

As in many issues, the NCAA is full of hypocrisy. Coaches are paid millions of dollars a year. Graduate your players and lose and you'll get a pat on the back as they show you the door. Brand talks about "turning down the volume" of college sports, yet the NCAA sells its basketball tournament for more than a billion dollars. NCAA officials talk of cutting costs, and the talk is usually taking place at one of the nation's swankier hotels or resorts.

No one argues that athletes ought to be legitimate students, but they face requirements that other students don't face. It is all but impossible now for an athlete to change his or her major and remain eligible. Is that fair? I don't think so.

The vast majority of the athletes I've been around try very hard to balance the immense demands of competition and school. It takes a lot of self-discipline to put in the time it takes to win on the field or on the court and win in the classroom. Most do an amazingly good job of it.

Some don't. That's unfortunate, but it's not a tragedy and it's not exploitation. It's life.

A LOST WEEKEND

Over the course of three days, Auburn's baseball season might have become a lost cause. There were no injuries to blame this time. The Tigers were swept at Florida because they couldn't get the Gators out when it mattered.

Auburn's pitching staff--which should be as good as any in the SEC--has fallen on hard times. The Tigers gave up 40 runs in three games at Florida, including 22 on Sunday. Two weeks earlier, they gave up 19 on Sunday at Alabama.

Season-long struggles on offense can at least somewhat be attributed to the loss of first baseman Karl Amonite and third baseman Tyler Johnstone, but no pitchers have been hurt. And now the Tigers face an uphill battle just to get to Birmingham for the SEC Tournament.

With series left at home against South Carolina and Georgia and on the road at Arkansas, the Tigers need to win six of nine to finish the season 15-15 in the SEC. Five of nine might be enough to get a spot in the tournament field and it might not.

With six losses in the last seven SEC games, there's not much to indicate this team is ready to make a run down the stretch, particularly against three of the hotter teams in the league.

If it doesn't, it will complete a year of disappointment in the sports that matter most. Football was ranked No. 6 nationally in the preseason and went 8-5. Basketball was picked to finish second in the West and finished last. And now baseball has its turn.

Until next time…


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