The president of The Drake Group sees academic failure in college sports.
Data released last month by the NCAA reveal that a record 79 percent of collegiate student-athletes are receiving degrees. But that number doesn't tell the whole story, according to Kadence Otto, assistant professor of sport management at Western Carolina University and current president of The Drake Group, which has been fighting academic corruption in college athletics since its founding nine years ago. Otto, who played basketball at Division III Wheaton College on a special admission due to substandard SAT scores, went on to earn Master's and Doctorate degrees from Florida State University, shining her research light on the shadier aspects of college athletics. Paul Steinbach asked Otto to assess the current state of academic affairs.
Q: Why did you get involved in The Drake Group? A: As a graduate student at Florida State, I had the opportunity to teach some classes, and one of my students was a very good football player. I heard from his academic advisor, "How's he doing?" I said, "He's not doing well, to be honest. He can't write a sentence and he can't spell." A couple weeks went by, the kid blew out his knee, and I never heard from the academic advisor again. The kid got an F in the class. It was sad to me. These guys are already coming into a situation in which they're not capable of doing college work and then once they're no good to the team, everybody forgets about them.
Q: Do you see a failure of the education system at all levels? A: It's a major problem. In my experience at Western, a regional university, the writing quality is atrocious. I think what happens is we have this trickle-down effect of professionalization. Instead of youth sports creating good social qualities, the focus is on competition and winning. It's a dangerous model.
Q: NCAA president Myles Brand has declared, "Academic reform is alive and well on campuses nationwide." What do you say to that? A: Academic reform under his definition, if those numbers are accurate, would be alive and well. But I would ask him, "Has he been in the trenches lately?" Most members of The Drake Group are professors, and it's just not what we're seeing. And I wonder if he has entertained one of the major problems with this - the Academic Progress Rate. Athletes have to make 'x' percentage of progress toward their degree each year. So what happens when kids are about halfway through their sophomore year and want to change majors? A lot of these kids can't do the work in the first place, and then they're forced to miss classes or are not allowed to choose a major that they might be interested in. And that is really setting them back.
Q: Where is true reform going to come from? A: Myles Brand should note that athletes are starting to wake up. They are starting to see those numbers, that a fraction of the athletes make it to the pros. It goes along with the NCAA's nice commercial that it throws out there: "Just about all of us will go pro in something other than sports." That's starting to ring true for athletes, and they're like, "Wait a minute. If I'm not getting an education, I can't go pro in something else."