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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Matt Leinart's Class Schedule Is

a) worthy of a scholar-athlete;
b) worthy of a scholar;
c) worthy of an athlete; or
d) a bad joke.

I'd have to argue d), and I'd argue it hard. Read this, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Leinart, you see, needed only 2 credits to graduate coming into this football season. As a result, he's taking one, yes, only one, two-credit class. It doesn't matter what the subject is in my book (unless, of course, Jim Harrick, Jr., wizard of multiple choice tests in his for-credit hoops course while at Georgia, is teaching at USC). It does happen to be ballroom dancing. Which, naturally, sounds much less impressive than a course entitled "Examples in Leadership" or "Profiles in Courage" or Statistics 323 or whatever else that encourages a college student to expand his or her mind.

Why is this a problem? It's a problem because college is for students. Students who take a reasonable roster of classes that broaden them, help them think expansively, challenge premises and help forge a way of learning and thinking. Now I understand at some large schools is hard to get the opportunity to take all required courses for your major in eight semesters, and I know that many have to work to help pay their way through college, so they sometimes cannot shoulder a full load. There are many situations that have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

But one course? Just one? And in ballroom dancing? Does that really make Matt Leinart a student athlete? In a recent SI, Rick Reilly (with whom I sided mightily in the steroids affair in Major League Baseball), defends Leinart. No, check that, he elegizes him, lionizes him, use whatever fancy SAT word you want. Reilly, who frequently casts a critical eye on the sports world (even if I thought his piece on this cheerleader was a bit much; the letters to the editor criticizing this piece were better than the piece itself), misses the mark here. Leinart's course roster should not be worthy of praise.

It should be derided as what's wrong with certain aspects of major college football. That Leinart opted to forego turning pro and becoming a punching bag for the 49ers was praised because of his "Aw shucks, I just want to stay in college attitude." He got great praise for making what appeared to be a decision of character, turning down tens of millions of dollars. I, for one, thought that there remained certain classroom milestones that he wanted to accomplish, such as finishing a master's degree. The brainy quarterback, I thought, patiently waiting one more year, and learning a lot more in the classroom.

Instead, as it turned out, Leinart opted for the glory of potentially a wonderful championship season while enjoying the fruits of an upperclass college existence without virtually any classroom responsibility. And who wouldn't want that? Sounds like a lot of fun.

Now, the Reillys of the world would argue that Leinart, for all that he has meant to USC, has earned this right. But that's just plain wrong. He clearly has done a lot for USC, but they gave him a scholarship and the right to obtain a good education. Which he did. But what's wrong with the whole story is now he's playing quarterback without essentially being a student.

And that's not right.

Now, listen, Matt Leinart represents a lot of what's good in the college sports world, the formerly awkward kid with bad feet who has blossomed into an all-world athlete and potentially a very wealthy man. He deserves kudos for his play on the field, and I'll be among the first to say that.

What he doesn't deserve is praise for his decision to remain in college.

And what he certainly doesn't deserve is any mention as a scholar-athlete.

Because, in this case, he's just an athlete at a college.

And, this year, not a scholar at all.

(As an aside, a sad case occurred about 8 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania involving former all-Ivy and former NFL DT Mitch Marrow, who wasn't take a "full load" at Penn during his final season in which Marrow was a fifth-year senior. Penn ended up forfeiting the games in which Marrow played, and the problem unearthed itself when Marrow's mother called an administrator in the Penn athletic department and asked whether his tuition would ultimately reflect his part-time status, because Marrow wasn't taking a full load, which, as you'll read, was more than a two-credit course in ballroom dancing. Read more about that here).


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...

Sorry Prof, but I think I have to disagree with you here. USC plays NCAA football under the NCAA rules and guidlines; and under those guidelines, Leinert is eligible to play with that class schedule he is carrying. Why? Because he already graduated and holds a diploma/degree from USC. All it takes to be a "scholar-athlete" is to be a student in good standing making progress toward his/her degree. He certainly is doing that since he already has the degree in hand.

You can't fault Lienert or USC; if there is fault to be found, it is with the NCAA as the rule-makers here.

By the very fact that he has his degree and thereby would be eligible to pursue a Masters Degree, that puts him in a completely different category from any of the people who took Jim Harrick Jr.'s course in Basketball Theory 101 (or whatever sham title it carried).

And Penn plays football under Ivy League rules which take the NCAA rules and make them even more arcane. (I went to Penn and covered Ivy sports there; even though that was eons ago, I can't believe that the rules have gotten any more rational.) Under those rules, part-time students aren't allowed to play intercollegiate sports (and particularly football which the Ivy League has merely tolerated as a student activity since the 50s. If the Ivy schools could obliterate football and not risk a huge backlash in terms of alumni donations, I think they'd vote to do that in about 38 nanoseconds.

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