It's March Madness time in college basketball where the nation's top teams compete for bragging rights. The annual tournament has great appeal for a number of reasons but primarily because the athletes are students, not professionals. I think in some ways we can all perhaps relate more closely to the student athletes just a rung above the high school level.
But a new report just out on graduation rates of student athletes puts a far different spin on the notion of classrooms and gymnasiums. In fact, a substantial number of these student athletes will never graduate. Their college years are designed solely to showcase their talents for a potential run at the pros. And that has many college officials worried.
Of the 65 teams in this year's NCAA tournament, the numbers are clear. Two schools - Louisiana State and Minnesota - have not graduated an incoming freshman for the past 10 years. The students come to the universities knowing that the classroom is not their destination. And of the remaining teams, 42 squads have a graduation rate of less than 50 percent.
These dismal academic statistics are forcing some changes. The NCAA announced last month that it will apply sanctions to teams that graduate less that 50 percent of their athletes. That should put more emphasis on academics and less on sports. But it's doubtful the sanctions will have much impact in the beginning.
Coaches and boosters are more often interested in achievement on the playing field than in the classroom. That drive for athletic success is undermining the drive for academic achievement. The concept of "student athletes" is fast becoming a relic.
I have always been impressed with the academic All-Americans in college sports. These are athletes who compete favorably on the playing field and the classroom as well. But these players are in the elite minority, according to the NCAA report.
As you watch these basketball games in the coming weeks, remember that most of the players will never hold a college degree. Instead of using their college days for an education, they use it as a showcase for their athletic abilities. That's fine for the four years of college. But then these "student athletes" enter the real world and find success much more elusive than on the basketball courts.