Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Player & the Grades

The big news in Lexington these days has to do not with the Equestrian Games but with whether or not Eric Bledsoe, the star basketball player of 2009-10 at UK and now in the NBA, had grades sufficiently appropriate for even being a student, much less a direct descendent of one of the Greek gods, which is the description awarded to basketball bouncers at UK. The investigation by the NCAA and/or the Birmingham, Alabama, City School System (actually hired a law firm for such a momentous task) has been ongoing for a long time.

A panel instituted by the Birmingham City Schools and headed by a former federal judge (nothing but the best) also looked into the matter and came up with “an independent review” concluding that some grades had been changed; however, the school superintendent decided that not enough evidence was available to declare the player’s transcript to be invalid. In fact, no grade books from his junior year were made available, nor were more than half from his senior year. The grade-books were AWOL from the system, if, indeed, even in existence…probably not.

One of the strangest findings was that Bledsoe received an “A” in algebra 3 before taking algebra 2, according to the Birmingham News. That’s quite an accomplishment. One of Bledsoe’s teachers indicated that a changed grade meant that extra work had been done that required the change. Problem: There was no proof, of course, that any extra work had been done. In any case, unless Birmingham is different, extra work happens BEFORE the grade is given, not afterward.

So what! Well…UK would probably have had to forfeit all the games it won, actually no big deal for the coach since he’s been through this stuff before at other schools and nothing as world-shaking as an NCAA final four appearance, the Mt. Olympus of basketball gods, was involved anyway. At $4 million a year, he had nothing financially to lose, nor did UK since it has faced everything from point-fixing scandals to illegal recruiting practices for decades. NCAA probation is virtually part of the curriculum, hardly worth a healthy yawn.

Strangely, Bledsoe has an attorney, notwithstanding that he didn’t construct his transcript and was not charged with anything. The attorney complained that the panel had not contacted Bledsoe to get his take on the matter, though what could he be expected to say about the panel’s report that 17 of 24 grades “earned” in his senior year had been “conspicuously changed?” The attorney pontificated about an unfounded attack on Bledsoe’s character and integrity, and that the player was not too happy about the whole thing. Still laughing?

One suspects that Bledsoe’s unhappiness is somewhat tempered by the fact that he recently signed a contract with the Los Angeles Clippers for a reported approximately $1.2 million, not bad for a year’s work involving 84 games, a lot of travel and all the rest. In fact, the player has probably been laughing all the way to the bank every time he’s cashed a check. Not many university graduates make that much for many years. And this is just the beginning for Bledsoe, a fine player, who maybe just got “a little help from my friends,” as the Lennon-McCartney song would have it.

It’s worth remembering that Bledsoe’s experience is not unique, especially in the NCAA Southeast Conference, but actually sort of par for the course. Sports fans understand that integrity on the part of coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents, who actually approve of and operate the whole shady enterprise (except at Vanderbilt), is neither expected nor particularly desired. They want a winner, the devil take the hindmost. Coaches and athletic directors become fabulously wealthy in the whole sordid mess and, in fact, make it on the backs of players like Bledsoe, who most likely knew exactly what was going on, but considered himself just another accepted part of the “system.”

College/university sports, with the possible exception of baseball, are accepted as the minor leagues for professional sports, especially football and basketball, the latter including girls teams. Even full scholarships for golf are available. Only a miniscule number of athletes ever make it to the pros but they get a free ride in education…sometimes if they can just sign their names, while actual scholars exiting high schools run up huge debts and flip burgers at McDonalds. This isn’t fair but the name of the game is money and the crazed fans demand their red meat.

And now a crass adjunct: The lead story in the book
  • **"The Stem-cell Quarterback" & Other Stories
  • is all about the SEC and the lengths to which university honchos will go to game the system on the backs of athletes. Read it and weep…or laugh.

    And so it goes.
    Jim Clark

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