Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Bums Lost

*The following is a special guest post from Mark Yost.*

Every college sports fan has those moments they’ll never forget. For Duke fans it’s Christian Laetner’s buzzer beater against Kentucky, for Midshipmen it’s the 2007 win over Notre Dame, and for Michigan fans it’s most any time they beat Ohio State. (This week will be particularly sweet if the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes’ perfect season.) For the sliver of us who still believe in quaint notions like academics and integrity, we will forever remember Stanford beating Oregon.

I don’t often engage in schadenfreude, but it was downright bliss to see the tears streaming down the faces of the Ducks faithful after Jordan Williamson, a psychology major from Austin, Texas, who loaded up on Advanced Placement classes to meet Stanford’s rigorous admission requirements, kicked the winning field goal in overtime. That’s because there are no two better examples of the forces of good and evil in college athletics today.

Despite the NCAA’s insistence that all these kids are students first and athletes second, at Stanford it’s actually true. According to the most recent NCAA figures, Stanford has a Graduation Success Rate of 90, meaning that only about 10% of the student-athletes who enroll there as freshmen end up not graduating. By comparison, Oregon’s GSR is 64, meaning that nearly 40% of its athletes never graduate. And I’m sure that figure factors in all the loopholes that the NCAA builds into the system to accommodate academically embarrassing programs like Oregon. A recent San Jose Mercury News study found that Stanford is No. 1 in terms of GPA (3.63) and SAT score (1176). Oregon’s numbers are middling at 2.94 and 969.

Those numbers are driven by the fact that most of the Stanford football players graduated from serious high schools where they earned as many academic honors as they did on-field accolades. There’s perhaps no better example of this than standout senior running back Stepfan Taylor. He’s African-American, which is significant because today’s college athletic culture preys on young black men in ways that would make antebellum plantation owners blush. Before coming to Palo Alto, Taylor, who ran for 161 yards Saturday night, earned all-district high school honors and a proclamation from his hometown mayor lauding his success on and off the field. He’s just the third back in Stanford history to rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and he did it while majoring in Stanford’s rigorous science, technology and society curriculum. Put simply, Taylor is one of the notable exceptions to the felons, drug dealers and domestic abusers who are regularly lauded as All-American heroes on college campuses across the country.

Now let’s look at Oregon. Starting quarterback Marcus Mariota majors in human physiology, running back Kenjon Barner is studying journalism, fellow backfielder De’Anthony Thomas Communication, and placekicker Alejandro Maldonado, who missed an OT field goal, sports marketing. Not exactly rocket science (or engineering).

Beyond its lack of academic rigor, Oregon is currently under investigation as a repeat violator of NCAA recruiting rules. The school was sanctioned back in 2004 for recruiting violations related to running back J.J. Arrington, who went on to play in the NFL and was arrested for fighting at a nightclub in North Carolina in 2008. Another highly touted Oregon recruit, Tyrece Gaines, was charged last month with first-degree burglary, fourth-degree assault, strangulation and interfering with making a police report in connection with a domestic violence incident outside Eugene. And last year, a carful of Oregon football players was pulled over for going 118 mph on I-5. When the arresting officer smelled marijuana and asked who had the weed, driver Cliff Harris said, “We smoked it all.” To their credit, Oregon booted him and the Philadelphia Eagles eventually cut him, but the point is: Gentlemen and scholars, these are not.

While this behavior is commonplace among elite athletes on campuses across the country, Oregon is unique for its Nike connection. Company founder Phil Knight was on the Oregon track team before he and Sonny Vaccaro came up with the payola scheme that has made apparel and sneakers a cash cow for nearly every D-I program in the country. Knight further debased the culture of college athletics when Oregon, official colors green and yellow, began wearing gangsta-inspired black uniforms The trend, which is all about selling more apparel, has since spread to other college campuses like the plague. It is, quite simply, further endorsement of the thug-like behavior of college athletes everywhere.

So, again, forgive me for celebrating Oregon’s misfortune. But as Jeffery Lebowski said to the Dude: “Condolences. The bums lost.” For once.

(Mark Yost is the author of Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics)

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