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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

EDITORIAL: SEC schools’ pursuit of 14-year-old contrasts with Marquette

Editorial PhotoIn the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams,” then-recruit William Gates is offered a basketball scholarship by Marquette despite injuries he sustained in high school. The story, which follows Gates’ and fellow recruit Arthur Agee’s early basketball careers, is a “feel-good” one: Gates is given the chance to play college basketball and pursue a higher education even though setbacks in high school put that in jeopardy.

When news broke last week that Alabama and Louisiana State were prepared to offer an eighth grader a scholarship to play football, we did not quite sense the same positive storyline.

Athletic scholarships can provide an opportunity for students who may not be academically or financially able to attend a four-year university. But telling a 14-year-old he earned a place at a university before even stepping into a high school classroom places sports above all else and contributes to a culture that all too often leads to poor results in life after college sports.

According to the NCAA’s database on graduation rates for Division I Men’s Basketball, in 2005, the most recent year for which data is available, Chicago State University and the University of Connecticut each graduated just 10 percent of their players, the lowest rates among the 347 Division I programs. Sixteen other schools graduated fewer than 30 percent of their players, with 33 more graduating fewer than half of their team members.

A more recent study of 2012 NCAA Tournament teams by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found that UConn graduated 25 percent of its players, the University of California-Berkley graduated 33 percent, the University of Florida 38 percent and the University of Michigan 45 percent in 2011. These are all schools that tend to pride themselves on tough academic standards.

We are not saying schools should completely shut the door for athletes who do not meet the same academic standards of other prospective students. But we do think schools need to place more of an emphasis on academics if they are going to accept less qualified students in favor of athletic talent. Stressing education for athletes will make them more well-rounded and offer better prospects for success in the future, since most of the athletes will not end up playing professionally in their sport.

As of last year, only 1.2 percent of college basketball players and 1.7 percent of college football players have ended up playing professionally. Of all sports, only college baseball had more than 2 percent of its players play professionally, a statistic that can be credited to the depth of the minor leagues. This is hard evidence that education needs to be at the forefront for student athletes. Much to our university’s credit, and as alluded to in “Hoop Dreams,” Marquette excels at doing this.

Former Marquette forward Joe Fulce told CNN in April how important his degree ended up becoming for him since he didn’t have the privilege of playing professionally. The same CNN story went on to call Marquette “a model program,” citing how it frequently graduates 100 percent of the basketball team, or at least above 90 percent.

We applaud Buzz Williams and his coaching philosophy that emphasizes classroom success and building quality individuals off-the-court. Williams has not been afraid to suspend players during his tenure as Marquette’s head coach – if even for just a single game or a half, or in the case of sophomore guard Todd Mayo, a whole semester – in hopes that the players improve academically and personally. The outstanding graduation rates point to success in Williams’ style.

On the other hand, what Alabama football coach Nick Saban and LSU football coach Les Miles are telling Dylan Moses, the 14-year-old they are on the verge of promising a higher education, is that his academic coursework and personal behavior over the next four years of his life are not much of a consideration at all in bringing him to their respective schools. If they are willing to give such little regard to the next four years of Moses’ non-football life, what does that say about their programs’ emphasis on non-football life?

Schools too frequently fail in this department. An in-depth report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in 2009 found Florida State’s football program bringing in players with incredibly low academic ability, including some with IQs as low as 60 and reading at second grade levels. The report also showed former Florida State players working manual labor jobs after school, despite having NFL aspirations that had been set in their minds by the same culture that is being perpetuated by Saban and Miles – a culture that makes sports a priority above every other facet of higher education.

A life in sports is not guaranteed at any level. It is a privilege, just as attending a four-year school without playing a sport is a privilege. Once a school starts to disregard academic priorities for athletes for the sake of winning games, it ceases to uphold what it is supposed to stand for and takes advantage of its student athletes in the process. We are proud Marquette is a model for consistently doing the right thing in this regard, and we hope that things turn out well for Dylan Moses, regardless of his college decision. Right now, his story is not the same as the feel-good journey featured in “Hoop Dreams,” but those stories are still possible. A school’s priorities just have to be in the right place.

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