Outside the Lines:
Purely Academic

 

Here's the transcript from Show 158 of weekly Outside The Lines - Purely Academic

SUN., APRIL 6, 2003
Host: Bob Ley
Reported by: Tom Farrey
Guests: Mark Gottfried, Alabama men's basketball coach; Dr. Myles Brand, NCAA president; Robert Hemenway, University of Kansas chancellor.

BOB LEY - Final Four weekend -- basketball at center stage, but a major change may be brewing. Such as banning from the tournament those schools whose players don't perform academically.

JIM DELANY, BIG TEN COMMISSIONER - If you're not graduating anybody, you're not retaining people and you're not progressing people, in some form of fashion, there's got to be accountability.

LEY - Myles Brand, the president of the NCAA is determined to change the status quo. But critics say the graduation rates at the heart of his reform are not fairly calculated.

JIM BOEHEIM, SYRACUSE HEAD BASKETBALL COACH SINCE 1976 - You mean, we wouldn't be able to play in the tournament because a guy left to go to the NBA early?

KELVIN SAMPSON, OKLAHOMA HEAD BASKETBALL COACH SINCE 1994 - You are not going to change the rules and all of the sudden, OK, everything is really good now.

LEY - Clearer than ever is the tension between big money sports programs and the mission of universities.

LINDA BENSEL-MEYERS, DIRECTOR OF THE DRAKE GROUP - It would be easy for the NCAA and for coaches to have to just recognize that they're a professional business.

LEY - Today on Outside The Lines, what this far-reaching proposal may do to college sports as we know them now.

LEY - We will start with a number this morning -- 43 of the 65 schools in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament have player graduation rates below 50 percent, and 13 of those school have a zero percent African-American rate. So if Myles Brand and university presidents have their way, this Final Four, this particular lineup simply might not happen. The plan to penalize schools with poor graduation rates means that were the bar set at 50 percent, and these are official government numbers and four-year averages, Syracuse would not be in New Orleans to play in tomorrow night's championship game, neither would Texas have been in town. School presidents are poised for a decisive change, but school presidents recently have also had to answer for their decisions to seek out and hire Jim Harrick and Jerry Tarkanian and condone a player revolt at St. Bonaventure.

ESPN.com's Tom Farrey examines the NCAA proposal and the firestorm it's creating.

TOM FARREY, ESPN CORRESPONDENT - Last year, Jay Williams, then Jason Williams of Duke, epitomized the NCAA term student athlete. He graduated in May, shortly after being named the top player in the nation. However, Williams is more the exception than the rule. Only 34 percent of men's basketball players at Division I-A colleges get their degrees within six years compared to 60 percent of all students. If the school presidents who sit on the NCAA board of directors get their way, teams with low academic success rates may be punished.

DELANY - If you're not graduating anybody, you're not retaining people and you're not progressing people, in some form of fashion, there's got to be accountability.

FARREY - Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany works with the NCAA group developing the plan.

DELANY - What we're saying is, if you do not perform at some minimal level, you cannot have access to the assets of the association. It might be scholarships, it might be access to championships.

FARREY - It might sound bureaucratic until you consider the potential consequences. Oklahoma, with its zero percent graduation rate, could be banned from the NCAA tournament. Memphis, banned. Utah State, banned. Other teams in this year's tourney that might be in trouble include Louisville, Missouri, Alabama, Colorado, Arizona, Cal Berkeley, LSU, Cincinnati, and Utah. There's also the defending national champion, Maryland, and one of this year's Final Four teams, Syracuse.

BOEHEIM - So under a penalties formula, if you don't graduate, say, 50 percent of your players, which everybody seems to think that would be reasonable, well then you can't play in the tournament. So you mean we wouldn't be able to play in the tournament because the guy left to go to if NBA early and made millions of dollars and another kid transferred to another school to play? If you start punishing schools for things like that, then we're way off base.

JIM CALHOUN, CONNECTICUT HEAD BASKETBALL COACH SINCE 1986 - There's no question that there are people in this business and in universities who have allowed kids not to be educated as well as they should be. And for that, that's a shame on us and we should be chastised for that. But I think you need to look into each school's situation and the total calculation of graduation rates.

FARREY - Many coaches are nervous about the proposal. But the college presidents seem determined to do something about the issue. Some say nothing less than the marriage between universities and high-profile sports entertainment is at stake.

LARRY FAULKNER, PRESIDENT OF UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS - Colleges and universities are not going to be able to give up in any serious way on their real mission in life. And their mission in life is not to host the sports teams. Their mission in life is to develop young people. So we have to make it fit because we all have an interest in maintaining this great cultural tradition.

FARREY - College basketball and football are also cash cows. According to "Business Week" magazine, they're part of the best monopoly in America, more impressive than that of Microsoft or even the U.S. Postal Service. But the NCAA's ability to avoid sharing more of its money with players is based on the notion that the athletes are at least getting an education.

MEYERS - I think it would be easier for the NCAA and for coaches to just recognize that they're a professional business and lets take away the amateurism and recognize what we are.

FARREY - Linda Bensel-Meyers is director of the Drake Group, a national athletic reform movement independent of the NCAA that's made up largely of faculty members. She's an English professor at the University of Tennessee.

MEYERS - I don't think it will get to the point that the NCAA is going to have to enforce the standards or penalize individual teams the same way that we have -- we did not see the death penalty actually being asserted by the NCAA anymore.

FARREY - The devil will be in the details which will take shape in meetings this spring with the goal of partially implementing the system by late 2004. Right now, the NCAA is evaluating how to measure teams' academic success -- how much weight to give each of its three criteria -- one, a real-time snapshot of how well athletes from each recruiting class are progressing towards a degree, from their freshmen to their senior years. Two, whether the school was able to retain each athlete. And, three, graduation rates.

SAMPSON - I think in theory it's good. There's not a coach in this country or university in this country that ultimately their goal is not to graduate all of their student athletes. I think where most coaches have a problem is how we're calculating a graduation rate, who counts, who doesn't.

FARREY - Oklahoma football has a 26 percent graduation rate, due in part to players who are transferred to other schools, yet contributed to the Sooners' low rate.

BOB STOOPS, OKLAHOMA HEAD FOOTBALL COACH SINCE 1999 - We could spike up those graduation rates right now if we had a better accounting measure and didn't include transfers, or if the transfer did transfer somewhere else and graduated, you still got credit for it, or if the guy took, you know, six years, came back after the NFL and did graduate, that you put him back in the mix.

DR. MYLES BRAND, NCAA PRESIDENT - Coaches are right in expressing their concerns that that's not an accurate way of counting.

FARREY - NCAA president Myles Brand says the graduation rates formula may be modified. The NCAA may also give extra scholarships to teams that are the highest academic achievers.

BRAND - We should reward those institutions and programs that excel at doing this, not just in basketball but in other sports. And we should prepare to take action when that's not the case.

FARREY - What will happen if the NCAA starts telling schools you have to graduate X number of players or you're being punished.

MEYERS - Well, I think it will just put the burden on the university to be able to side step their own policies in ways that they've already begun doing, and pressure on the faculty to change the grades to keep the athletes eligible for competition.

BEN HOWLAND, UCLA HEAD BASKETBALL COACH - What I would hate to see is to see kids get pigeon holed into majors because they may be a little easier to compete in and be able to get a degree that may result in a degree but in a major that maybe they're not as interested in or maybe not be as beneficial to their future.

FARREY - Those concerns are especially relevant given recent changes in the NCAA's sliding scale that determines an athlete's eligibility. Beginning this year, athletes no longer need at least an 820 on their SAT to play as freshmen. If their high school grades are good enough, all they need is a 400 -- the lowest possible score. Yet once on campus, they'll be required to earn more credits each year to keep playing.

JOE CASTIGLIONE, DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS, OKLAHOMA - In short, it's made it easier for student athletes to get in, but harder to stay.

FARREY - Contrary to the hopes of Brand, college coaches say they will not hesitate to take once forbidden athletes with extremely low SAT scores.

SAMPSON - This isn't Alice in Wonderland. You're not going to change the rules and all of a sudden, OK, everything is really good now. Everything is all puff-clouds and marshmallows and everything is cool. That's not going to be the case. I'm always going to look for a kid that may slip through the cracks.

TUBBY SMITH, KENTUCKY HEAD BASKETBALL COACH - If we're going to keep intercollegiate sports at the level that we have it at the major college level and we're going to get the class or the cream of the crop, the athletes that spent all of his life preparing to be the best he can be in college basketball, you probably are going to have to allow it, because he's putting a lot of time in developing his game. More time than he probably did in academics.

FARREY - And, of course, it's not just the players who would suffer, coaches understand what keeps them employed.

GENE KEADY, PURDUE HEAD BASKETBALL COACH SINCE 1980 - We graduated all four of our seniors last year and all I heard was that we were 13-18. So it's not a situation that the coaches are happy about.

LEY - To discuss the reforms, we welcome Mark Gottfried. He has just completed his fifth season as the head basketball coach at the University of Alabama. Myles Brand is the former president of Indiana, and Robert Hemenway is the chancellor of the University of Kansas. Myles Brand is with us as well. He is the university president, formerly at Indiana, and Robert Hemenway, the chancellor of the University of Kansas. Gentlemen all, thank you, you're all this morning in New Orleans on one less hour sleep than normal. Let me ask you, Myles Brand, specifically, why are these reforms needed right now at this time?

BRAND - First of all the coaches are right, that we do have to have a better way of accounting for graduation. If the student leaves in good academic standing, it's really not fair to hold that against the school or the team or coach. So once we have in place a good measure of what counts as academic progress, and we will in the next few months, and begin to refine it over the next year, once we do that, we'll need to make progress on changing the graduation rates in this better way of accounting.

LEY - But what's the principle to play there, to change it?

BRAND - Fairness is the principle in play. The coaches are right to point out that if a student in good academic standing leaves to go to the professional leagues, leaves to transfer to another school to get more playing time, for example, that should not count against the team, should not count against the coach. We'll change those so it's fair. But having changed that system of counting, we still expect students to make academic progress and to the extent they stay in the school, during that period of time to graduate. Do you know that in Division I there are over 36 schools that have not graduated a single men's basketball player in five years. Now I don't care how you count, that's unreasonable. And so we do have to change that.

LEY - All right, Mark Gottfried, what worries you about what you've been hearing so far about the proposed reforms?

MARK GOTTFRIED, ALABAMA HEAD COACH - Well, I think some of them are good, Bob. I think one thing we have to remember in basketball, our sport is a little bit different in that when a person's eligibility is over, a lot of times, especially at the higher level, these guy haves opportunities to go make money all over the globe. I think that's different than other sports. And really, in my opinion, if we want to watch them graduate, or more of them graduate, most schools are paying for the fifth year of education anyway. College kids don't graduate in four years on our campus that don't participate in sports, I would like to see them get five years of eligibility, and if we want to watch them graduate, I think they will have a lot more of them graduate.

LEY - Robert Hemenway, there's going to be a de-emphasis on the SAT score, in just relying on the core curriculum. We've reported on this show, for example, of a school in New York City where coaches funnel players in and basically it's a sham curricula. How can you be assured that just relying on core curricula and de-emphasizing SATs will work?

ROBERT HEMENWAY, CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS - Well, you'd certainly have to identify those kinds of schools. I hope there are not very many like that. But on the other hand, it's a much fairer way to do it. The standard -- the cut score, when it was just a cut score and nothing else, really had an adverse impact, I think, particularly for students of color. I think we've gotten a lot better system now because if you have a low SAT score, you'd have to have a very high grade point average. The chances of you being eligible with a 400, you'd have to have almost a straight A average. And I think there are ways to control and make sure that the high schools are doing things with integrity. I think, as a matter of fact, 99 percent of the high schools are probably doing things with great integrity.

LEY - But the NCAA has been sued when it has attempted to challenge high school curricula, and so essentially in the past, to this point, they've stopped doing it.

HEMENWAY - Well, I think we always have to be concerned about doing things properly and legally. But the one thing -- the main reason we're changing the initial eligibility standard is that we were concerned about whether or not we would be able to protect ourselves and to protect the NCAA and the universities against a charge that this is racially discriminatory.

LEY - Well, you mentioned racial discriminatory, Myles Brand, let me ask you this. Among the numbers, and you just sighted one, here is another one. Thirteen schools in this year's tournament, zero percent African-American graduation rate. What does that particular number say to you?

BRAND - That's a very uncomfortable number. Again, we're not sure how accurate that way of counting is in the federal mandate counting.

LEY - But it is still low, though. It is a very low number.

BRAND - But having said that, there's a point below which we don't want to go. And we want to make sure that student athletes have every opportunity to make progress towards a degree. And we mean all students -- students of color as well as majority students. To the extent that that's occurring, it has to change.

LEY - Mark Gottfried, I see you nodding.

GOTTFRIED - Well, I agree. I think we all have to be careful, Bob. It's easy to throw a number out there. And obviously, there are some schools that haven't done very well with minority students or any student athletes. But at the same time in basketball, you know, I've heard that Sweet 16 there was so many teams that had certain graduation rates -- our numbers -- our recruiting classes only have two guys, three guys, sometimes four people. That number in your rate may go from 75 percent to 50 percent to 25 percent quickly. You might have a guy that's making a couple hundred thousand overseas playing basketball. He's only lacking six hours towards a degree.

But the numbers are different, instead of football where there's 25 kids in a class and one or two kids may not make that much difference. So we got to be careful just to throw out those numbers, because I think there's a story behind some of the numbers at different times.

LEY - We are going to step aside for a second, gentlemen, and when we continue, we'll look at the reforms. Last night, a couple of semifinal teams, Kansas and Marquette by the current numbers, they have enviable graduation rates. And Mark, you just mentioned it, half of the Sweet 16. We'll take a look at the current numbers and take a look at the other half on the other side of the break.

LEY - Look at the graduation rates of the other half of the Sweet 16. It is computed again, these are official government numbers from the U.S. Department of Education, and they're computed over a four-year class average. And we continue now with Mark Gottfried and Bob Hemenway and Myles Brand, the president of the NCAA. Mark, talk about the pressure to win. Explain to these two gentlemen on the other end who in their time had to hire and oversee the firing of coaches, the pressure to get the best players and win?

GOTTFRIED - I don't think there's any question, there's a lot. I was at a game last night, 54,000 people in there, and it's all about winning. I think coaches understand that. We understand that, you know, a lot of time that is what determines it. Matt Doherty went through that. I don't think anybody paid attention to how many kids graduated in North Carolina. So it's tough. But I think coaches in general, Bob, I mean, they understand it. But they care about kids. They want to see kids do well, graduate, have a better life, and try to balance the whole, you know, the whole thing with winning and with caring with kids. I think coaches really do care.

LEY - But is there a culture in place, Myles Brand, that has to be changed here because of that pressure to win?

BRAND - You know, I think this comment is exactly on target. It's not either/or, it's not win or academic success, it's both. We have to figure out a way in which student athletes have the full opportunities to get a first class education in our great universities and colleges and the coaches and the team performs well. It's both. It's not either/or.

LEY - Well, playing off that, I would like to read a quote from Jim Calhoun, the Connecticut coach, in the "New York Times" recently. He said, speaking of you, Dr. Brand, he says, "He maybe needs to understand as we have gone into a different culture over the last 15 years of where our kids have come from. Maybe he needs someone to help direct him. Maybe he should be the guy pushing for freshman ineligibility, to give those kids a chance to kind of grow a little." Pick up on that point, that there's a cultural issue in play here?

BRAND - The point is, that's insulting to student athletes. I believe if student athletes are told when they're in grade school or high school by future coaches, by parents, by others, that you can succeed academically, they will succeed academically. I have a lot of faith in America's youth. I think with the right attitudes, coaches and students can all get together and they can form a culture and form an approach that these student athletes can graduate. I think to think that they can't achieve academically is unfair to them.

LEY - Mark, do you think Jim Calhoun makes a fair point about going into, as he said, a different culture over the last 15 years?

GOTTFRIED - Well, I do think it's different. And I think in basketball, the amount of kids thinking about professional sports in an earlier age makes it different. It probably de-emphasizes to some kids how important their degree is. They all think they are going to the NBA after one year of college. That's not always the case. So I think -- I do think coaches, high school coaches, people can make a difference with them. I do think when guys get to college, though, there's a lot of pressure on student athletes, most of them go to school year round now in college. Summer school all the way through to maintain some of the standards. And I like the fact that we mentioned before that I think we're going to re-evaluate maybe the methods for, you know, some of our standards and rates, because I do think it's a little bit different now.

LEY - Bob Hemenway, you've had three football coaches in the time that Roy Williams has been your basketball coach. You're coming off a 2-10 season. But how much attention is being paid to that team's graduation rate and that team's academic performance?

HEMENWAY - We pay a lot of attention...

LEY - But I mean, publicly though. Sorry, and I think, you know, and in the public media. There are folks around Kansas are looking at what, 2-10, right?

HEMENWAY - I think people at Kansas are looking at a model that comes from our basketball program. We see very clearly with Roy Williams and his program that you can have a culture where there's going to be academic influence and there's going to be athletic success. We can do that same thing in football. And that's the reason that we hired a coach that we think will achieve that kind of thing. It really depends on the coaches. I agree with Coach Gottfried, that you saw last night 54,000 fans at the Final Four. You saw the game I was most interested in, Kansas and Marquette, two coaches that know how to do it and graduate their players and be pretty darned successful too.

LEY - Timing of this proposed reform, Bob Hemenway, how soon do you want this to take effect?

HEMENWAY - Well, I think we've got to make sure that it takes place in a timely fashion. But I think that there's a...

LEY - How timely, if I can just interject.

HEMENWAY - Well, I would say in the next couple of years. Basically, we've done the initial eligibility part and the continuing eligibility part. People don't realize that we put into place new continuing eligibility requirements that means students are really going to have to be showing progress towards a degree to stay eligible. It's kind of been lost in the attention to incentives and disincentives, but that's a very important change. I think that over the next couple of years we'll be able to touch all of the bases. I think we need to talk with coaches. I think coaches have got a lot of good ideas on what the incentives and the disincentives might be appropriate.

LEY - Myles Brand, we have about 30 seconds -- in a couple of sentences, quickly, what do coaches need to understand that you don't think they're getting right now about the proposed reform?

BRAND - Oh, I think the coaches are getting this. They do have to understand that we will count it in a fairer way. And I'll give warning. Once we start to count in a more fair way and not the federally mandated way, graduation rates will appear to go up. It's not because we are whitewashing the problem. Rather it is because they're spotlighting what the real problem is, and we're counting in a more fair way. I think the coaches are getting it. I have a lot of confidence in them.

LEY - Mark, in one sentence, what do the administrators need to understand?

GOTTFRIED - Well, that coaches are good guys. We're trying our best too, and we care about the kids. And that's the bottom line.

LEY - Gentlemen, all. Thank you very much. Mark Gottfried and Bob Hemenway and Myles Brand, I appreciate you all taking the time from New Orleans this morning. Thank you very much.

Coming up on the 90-minute "SportsCenter" when we are done, we will be go back live in New Orleans. Dick and Digger considering how Kansas and Syracuse advanced and what tomorrow night may bring.

LEY - We will be heading back to the Final Four, live in New Orleans on the 90-minute "SportsCenter" at the top of the hour. Syracuse, Kansas advancing. Live analysis of what Monday night's championship game will involve. And a reminder that on Outside The Lines a transcription of all our Sunday morning programs are online at ESPN.com, and the key word is otlweekly. Our e-mail address, oltweekly@ESPN.com. We look forward to your thoughts on the proposed NCAA academic reforms.



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