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Spurrier shows what's wrong with college sports

Sunday South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier railed against the schools admissions process. His complaint was that the school's special admissions committee denied enrollment to two of his recruits who qualified under the NCAA's minimum standards.

"As long as I’m the coach here, we’re going to take guys that qualify," The Statenewspaper quoted Spurrier telling reporters. "If not, then I have to go somewhere else because I can’t tell a young man, 'You’re coming to school here,' he qualifies, and not do that. And we did that this year."

Spurrier obviously tried to seem noble by making it sound as if he were upset about going back on a promise to the two young men. I'm sure he is upset about that. But I have a feeling what he's really mad about is that the University of South Carolina is upholding an academic standard instead of giving into the athletic department's wishes.

"Our goal in the regular admissions process and any special admissions process is to try to be sure that every student admitted to the university can be successful and graduate," school spokesperson Russ McKinney said. "It’s not an arbitrary number on this score or that score."

Here's the deal: Most schools have these special admissions committees to consider applicants under special circumstances who might not otherwise get to go the school. The best known of these circumstances is being a recruit for a sports team. But it could also be someone who shows aptitude in art, dance, whatever. And from what I know, these committees have a great deal of latitude. But there's a point where they have to draw the line, as USC's committee, made up of faculty members, did in this case.

The problem is that other big schools will allow all sorts of athletes in that wouldn't otherwise make it. And Spurrier and his Gamecocks will compete against some of them and be compared in the national rankings to all of them. And that's the problem with big-time college sports. Too many schools are sacrificing academic standards for athletic success. And what's sad is that they don't necessarily have to.

The other day I heard ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd criticizing Stanford's new football coach Jim Harbaugh. Back in the spring, the Michigan alum accused his alma mater of steering kids with questionable academic achievement into easier courses that leave them ill-prepared for their future. Cowherd said that it's easy for Harbaugh to make a comment like that, because Stanford's rigorous academic standards won't allow the new coach to recruit partial-qualifiers. But what's wrong with that? Cowherd points out that the tough academic schools, like Stanford, Duke, Baylor and Vanderbilt make lousy football teams. I'll bet none of them, though, would trade their academic reputation for bowl games.

Cowherd went on to say that teams can't win if they don't recruit guys below normally-accepted standards. "The success of your defensive line," Cowherd said, "is directly preportionate to the number of arrests they have." How sad is that?

What happened to the idea of the student-athlete? Notice student comes first. Overall, student-athletes graduate at a slightly better rate than the rest of the student body at most schools. And why not? They typically have tutors and other resources not available to most students. But too often the big-money sports pull the averages down. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Sure schools like Duke maintain higher standards even for athletes. But that hasn't stopped the Blue Devils from being a perennial basketball powerhouse. Coach K even delays raising championship banners until all the members of the team graduate. Yes, I know it's easier to find 15 good players who are also good students than the 85 or so you need to fill out a football roster. Yet Joe Paterno has done it. He's been coach at Penn State for more than 40 years. In that time, his graduation rates, typically more than 80%, have been among the tops in the nation. He's also had 61 players who have earned first team Academic All-America honors a total of 73 times. The icon of the university has one building named after him on campus. It's not a stadium or gym. It's the library. He's also won a few games over the years. In fact, more than any other Division I-A coach other than Bobby Bowden. Of course, Florida State certainly leads the Nittany Lions in arrests. That must mean they have a better defensive line.

So to Steve Spurrier I say suck it up. Thank the thinkers at the University of South Carolina for looking out for academic integrity. Thank them for caring if the young men they'll invest millions of dollars in each year actually do get an education and can take care of themselves when their football glory days are over.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo


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