Commentary

Tweet shows truth about academics

Updated: October 10, 2012, 3:19 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Third-string quarterback Cardale Jones is officially Twitter famous. Yet I seriously doubt that achievement will ever be included in his bio at Ohio State.

Jones hasn't played at all this season, but he threw the equivalent of a pick-six on social media last week when he tweeted, "Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain't come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS."

For sure, it was a face-palm moment. And I'll bet when coach Urban Meyer was first notified of Jones' tweet, Meyer probably turned as red as the scarlet on the Buckeyes' uniform.

Jones wasn't allowed to dress for Saturday's game against Nebraska, and his Twitter account has since been deleted -- which is a shame because if those were his thoughts on education, can you imagine what Jones might have said about health care and the economy?

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Greg Bartram/US PresswireOhio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted last week that he just wants to play football, not go to class.

But all jokes aside, did Jones' tweet stir such widespread backlash because it was embarrassing or was it because, deep down, it exposed an uncomfortable, fundamental truth?

Obviously, Jones' opinions on academics don't reflect how every athlete feels about the college experience.

There are plenty of college players who deserve to be called "student-athletes." Many realize that becoming a professional athlete is unlikely, so they take advantage of the academic opportunity that was created by their athletic success.

And considering Jones had to attend Fork Union Military Academy to improve his academic standing, it's not surprising that he wouldn't exactly be enthralled by the idea of attending class.

But that doesn't mean Jones' tweet was off base.

This column would turn into the Magna Carta if I listed all of the academic scandals involving major college sports. North Carolina. Florida State. Harvard.

Harvard?

One of the reasons that major college sports will always be vulnerable to these scandals is because the message long ago was sent to players and administrators that academics only matter when it doesn't interfere with the bottom line.

On one hand, the NCAA is on the verge of unprecedented academic reform, which will begin in 2015. It has already taken steps to hold schools more accountable with the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which monitors scholastic progress and threatens programs with a postseason ban if they fail to make satisfactory academic improvement.

However, this also is the same NCAA that chose not to punish UNC after it uncovered academic misconduct in its Afro and African-American Studies department, where several UNC football players were steered to take courses to help them stay eligible. One of those players included Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, whose transcript was posted on the university's website and it was clear that had he not been "helped" by these African-American Studies courses, his stint as a Tar Heel might have been far less memorable.

The practice of directing athletes toward easier coursework to ensure their eligibility is widely known. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is probably still disliked in Ann Arbor after he admitted in 2007 that he wanted to major in history at Michigan, but he was talked out of it because he was told it "takes too much time."

"Michigan is a good school, and I got a good education there," Harbaugh told the San Francisco Examiner, "but the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in and, when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They're adulated when they're playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them."

Myron Rolle, who won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship while starring at Florida State, often spoke about how his college coaches were concerned about him being a pre-med major because they feared it would distract him from football. When Rolle decided to study abroad at Oxford for a year to fulfill his Rhodes scholarship obligation instead of going directly to the NFL, a lot of people thought it was foolish and some NFL teams even questioned his commitment to football.

Athletes are sent mixed messages all the time. We tell them to take the money when they have an opportunity to turn pro but act outraged when we discover that not all of them buy into the ideal that pursuing a college degree is worthwhile.

College football teams are aligning into power conferences without giving much thought to how the increased travel might impact academics.

So if those who are in charge seem so willing to devalue the importance of a college education, then why should athletes believe that they are actually in college to "play school"?

Jemele Hill | email

ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine

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