This article on ESPN.com discusses the discrepancy between those teams who are the top seeds in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament and the graduation rates of these basketball programs. According to this article, of the teams who are seeded #1 only the University of North Carolina (Go Heels!!!!) had a graduation rate above 50%, it was at 86%, all of the other teams were lower than 50%. These rates are from freshman classes that begin between 1997-1998 to 2000-2001 and measured how many of the freshman graduated within six years. Some schools are arguing that new standards and new efforts toward raising the graduation rates are not shown in this study and so this is not a reflection of the current rates of graduation.
Irregardless if these numbers go up or not, these numbers are still quite low. Shouldn't college be a means to an end, namely the pursuit of a career and academic knowledge? Shouldn't it? Well, as I thought about this, I came to some interesting conclusions. To the point about academic knowledge, I was not in school so long ago and most freshman do not go to college to gain knowledge. they go because their parents tell them they should go or as a means to an end, a career or means to be financially secure. So not only athletes are not going to college for the knowledge, but I would say that most students when they first enter college are not going for knowledge. So then what about a career or a means to become financially stable? If these athletes leave school to pursue the professional leagues, than aren't they doing what is best for them in terms of a career? If their best attribute is that they can throw a ball in a hoop or they can run fast or even they can tackle really well, than isn't it in their best interest to pursue the avenue that will allow them to follow this goal best. Shouldn't they do what will allow them to make money and become financially stable in the best way possible? Sure they could wait the extra three or four years to get a degree and then go to the pros, but what if they get hurt and then cannot go on to the pros. Yes, they now have gained knowledge and can enter another field, but I cannot think of another field that would allow you to not even graduate college or right out of a four year degree make several hundred thousand dollars or more. Why should they sacrifice this chance? Here is a scenario to illustrate my point. As a blogger we often talk about how nice it would be if someone would pay us to blog. So what if someone did, what if someone said, "I will give you $100,000 just to blog everyday." Would you not take this chance? Or as a teacher, I know that what I make is not reflective of the value I posses to society so if someone offered me the opportunity to make much more money teaching, even if they said upfront this is only a five year commitment, which is probably about average for most athletes. There are also aditional factors that need to be considered here too. For some of these kids, they are living in poverty and so athletics is the only way they can break the cycle of poverty not only for themselves, but for their whole families. Sure going to college is nice, but when you cn get enough money to move your family out of the "projects", get them a car and give them the opportunity to live a better life, why should they not do this? Even as I think about myself, I grow up solidly middle class, if not upper middle class. We did not struggle as many do, eating government cheese or hunting to squirrels or whatever we could find because there isn't anything else to eat. But still if while I was in college someone had come to me and said, we have a way for you to make money to support yourself and your family, it is not illegal and it is something that you really like doing, my response would be where do I sign up? Why would I not want to have the money to help my family when the helped to support me as I grew up? So I cannot blame the athletes for not graduating college, they are doing what they feel is in the best interest of themselves and their situations.
So then back to who we should blame for these low graduation rates? I think I have shown that I don't blame the kids. I could blame the colleges, but why? They are not trying to have kids not graduate. Many colleges do not think, lets get a kid to come here with the plan that we will be rid of him in a few years. Now a coach may think this, but not a college entity. Also, as a college they can only provide so many enticements for kids to stay in school. They cannot pay these kids, they cannot help with family situations and they cannot make these kids better students. The other issues is that at times, large group of teams will leave for the pros. A few years back, seven University of North Carolina (Go Heels!!) players left all in the same year and mot of them were not graduating. It is difficult for a college to then have a graduation rate that is all that high when several athletes leave all at once. And for some of the larger schools, there always seems to be one or two that are leaving for the pros any given year. This study only looked at basketball teams and in looking at three different schools, UNC, University of Texas and University of California- LA, they average around 15 players on their roster for each year, so it doesn't take much for a school to have it's graduation rate fall. So I am not sure I can blame the colleges, there are plenty of coaches that could be blamed I am sure and so when the graduation rates are high the coaches should get much of the credit and many of them do, but even they cannot control one of the players, only give them the advice and help them to stay in school.
So who is to blame? I would say the blame needs to be thrust upon the shoulders of society. The reason these players leaves is for money and the reason that the colleges cannot keep these kids in school is money. As a society, we value money and wealth over knowledge and so why wouldn't these kids only view college as a means to an end of going on to the professional leagues. They are told this constantly by society. We see pictures and movies and hear all about how much our athletes make in their sports. We are inundated with the fact that we need stuff, from big houses to fancy cars to diamonds and jewels. We are told that if you have enough stuff, nothing else matters. So who is to blame in this issue, it is us? We are to blame for allowing society to tell us that money is more important than knowledge and for allowing people to think that college is expendable, but the professional leagues are necessary. We all share in the blame and we all need to share in finding a solution to how we can encourage athletes to stay in college and to find ways to value knowlege and education more highly than we do.
NOTE: This post was written by a huge sports fan. I love all sports. I am totally jacked up for the NCAA college basketball tournament. I love watching football on Saturdays and Sundays. I love watching hockey and college basketball and most any other sport I can find most weekends, so this is not a condemnation of sports or the money that is paid to athletes because as with most anything else in this country, the market sets the prices that we will bear, and the exorbitant salaries of athletes are just another side of sports and commerce. This is a condemnation of the lack of value we place on education and knowledge.