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Monday, September 27, 2010
In Birmingham, teacher still hard to believe

By Eamonn Brennan

Make no mistake: The Eric Bledsoe saga is over. The Birmingham Board of Education made its baffling decision, ruling that Bledsoe's transcript wouldn't be changed despite an independent report claiming his teacher was "not credible" on the matter of Bledsoe's grade changes in high school. The NCAA has little business investigating transcripts in defiance of a local school board. And so that, as they say, is that.

Still, plenty of doubt remains in Birmingham. Writing for the Birmingham News, Tom Arenberg explains:
But the biggest head-scratcher is this: It is understandable that the Algebra 3 teacher wouldn't have documentation of the makeup work two years later when he unexpectedly has to talk to an investigator, but I surmise that if the teacher had offered any specific, convincing verbal recollections to the investigators, they would have included that in their report. There are none of those.

If you were the teacher who somehow inspired the school's star athlete to achieve the first A he had ever received in a high school math class and thus allowed him to reach collegiate fame and NBA riches, wouldn't you remember everything about it?

Arenberg writes that the school board seemed predisposed to approving Bledsoe's transcript unless there was airtight evidence to the contrary. Because it's so difficult to prove intent or record when discussing a changed grade -- and it is entirely possible, after all, that Bledsoe made up that work the way his teacher said he did -- that kind of evidence was never going to show up.

In closing, though, Arenberg hits on a matter of much greater importance, and one we probably haven't discussed quite enough in this whole mess:
But this isn't about Eric Bledsoe. This is about the unintended message that the Birmingham school board will potentially send to those teachers, counselors and coaches who have concluded that Bledsoe didn't do the work. And that message would be that it is OK to cut some corners if that can get an athlete into college and maybe beyond.

The danger, of course, is that very few prep athletes are Eric Bledsoe (who himself wasn't a certain pro prospect until his year at Kentucky). For the vast majority of prep athletes who will never play pro or who will find themselves unprepared for college academics, those classroom winks and nods back in high school may prove crippling in real life, especially if that class was basic math or English.

There are plenty of problems with amateur athletics, with the notion of student-athletes, and this is one that isn't limited to college campuses. Nor is it one the NCAA could ever fathom regulating. But far too many athletes are simply passed on up the ladder. They're not expected to perform well in school, so, as long as they don't cause problems in class, the teachers hand them a passing grade (or whatever grade they need for athletic eligibility in their school district) and wish them luck in the game Friday night.

At some point, though, the free ride ends. Maybe it's freshman year of college. Maybe it's after college. Every athlete can't make it to the pros, and somewhere along the line all that passing along catches up.

What do you do about it? I have no idea. Hope there are enough teachers at each school to make sure it doesn't happen? Hope the school board in question takes the issue seriously? This stuff isn't exactly in the college hoops blogger's handbook. But it might be something we -- all of us -- should think about a little more often.