HBO Dropped The Ball With 'Gaming The System'

I know this is the last person most would expect to be defending Oklahoma but in my opinion the Sooners took a cheap shot akin to Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans-inspired journalistic vomit splattered on Oklahoma State football last fall. HBO Real Sports centered part of its video investigation entitled "Gaming the System" on Oklahoma.

The segment also included interviews and information gained from investigating the academic process as it relates to student-athletes in football and men's basketball at North Carolina and Memphis.

The reporter on the story, Bernard Goldberg, spoke to former OU offensive lineman Erik Mensik and former OU director of student life and academics for the athletic department Dr. Gerald Gurney.

Gurney, who is still employed at the University as the director of adult and higher education, was critical of the NCAA's APR initiative and reform of the way to gauge the progress and academic performance of the student-athletes.

Honestly, I'm critical of it too. When the APR was first initiated as a reform it was a good idea. But instead of allowing the education professionals responsible for helping guide student-athletes through the educational process a say in the way the APR was set up, the NCAA went instead to research and statisticians and totally screwed up the entire situation.

If the NCAA's reasons for APR were to put student-athletes into similar situations and surroundings as traditional students like they often profess to then they really fouled up. The APR has none of the flexibility afforded normal students who often drop classes, change majors, and adjust their vision of their education and their future.

If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times, student-athletes had better know what they are going to major in almost immediately when they get on campus because the APR clock is ticking. It's no wonder North Carolina assigned the major of African-American Studies to student-athletes. It's no wonder academic counselors for athletes won't allow students to drop classes, change majors, or alter their academic course. The APR punishes the student and the school when they do, or the margin and opportunity to do so is very slim.

I asked Oklahoma State's Associate Athletic Director for Academics and Student Life Marilyn Middlebrook a very simple question, does the APR need some serious reform? "Yes," Middlebrook answered emphatically.

The APR also eliminated the minimums on standardized test scores and grade-point averages and created the sliding scale, which pleased coaches because it allows more athletes to be accepted into college. But it causes Middlebrook and her staff and others just like it at the other major athletic universities to keep those students in school and the school's APR acceptable in the high risk sports of football and men's basketball.

Bryant Gumble, Bernard Goldberg, and HBO Real Sports should really have centered their investigation on the APR and what it does in setting up so many failure situations rather than success situations.

Finally, former OU football player Erik Mensik said his multidisciplinary studies degree did not do the job for him and he is unhappy he can't get a better job with his degree. Okay, I kind of agree with his former head coach Bob Stoops, a college degree does not guarantee a great paying and fantastic job. You go out and sell yourself to an employer and convince them that you will be that guy (or gal) they need in their company.

Oklahoma State offers a similar multidisciplinary degree program and Middlebrook can't say enough good things about it, including the jobs it has helped land its recipients.

"Our kids do get good jobs with it," Middlebrook said. "I think it is an excellent degree. It gives our students different approaches to explore. For example they can get an education in business. Maybe they are looking to get into sales or to coach and they can take courses in business such as communication or management.

"That gives them the opportunity to do that without having to be a full-time business major. It allows our athlete to choose classes they have interest in and want to take and they learn more and enjoy themselves and their education more."

Middlebrook emphasized that at Oklahoma State they don't tell the athletes which course to take, but they certainly advise and give options.

"Could it be abused, I suppose, but not here," she said. "Our athletes are taking substantial courses within that degree program. We have one student that did not want a major, but wanted to minor in three areas and that degree allows him to do just that. It is a 130-hour degree program and when they have it, I believe they have accomplished something 75 percent of the world will not and that is earning a college degree."

Somebody alert Bryant Gumble and HBO. Sometimes the problem isn't at the grass roots, but the problem sits at the top. The APR is a great idea that was implemented poorly and the multidisciplinary degree is a good education choice when executed and advised correctly.

Does the marriage of college athletics and academics have some issues? Absolutely! In fact, college athletics has a number of issues going on currently including the increasing desire of its participants to unionize. Where should most of these problems be addressed? Campus is one option but HBO may want to start in Indianapolis and the NCAA headquarters.


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