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Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Few Observations about the Final Four

First, what exactly is a "student-athlete"? The NCAA insists that everyone involved with March Madness refers to the players as "student-athletes," but what exactly is meant by the term. Take Greg Oden, for example. I want to preface this by saying that everything I've read about Oden has been positive, that he sounds like a neat kid with a curiosity to learn and a good work ethic.

In SI's recent piece about The Ohio State University (I couldn't tell whether it was a puff piece or not, but it depends on where you sit), it featured Oden as an elite athlete (it also featured many other people in TOSU's athletic universe). Fair enough, but his accommodations don't resemble those of the average TOSU student and his academic load makes you wonder how low the bar has dropped for "student-athletes." The past semester Oden took Sociology 101, The History of Rock 'N Roll and got a few credits for playing basketball (which is permissible under NCAA rules, up to a cap of, I think 12 total credits during a scholar-athlete's eligibility). The article did point out that Oden had considered majoring in Business Administration, but an academic advisor had talked him out of it (but there's no controversy here the way there was when then-RB Robert Smith, who was pre-med, clashed with then-Offensive Coordinator Elliott Uzelac regarding his course load). Still. . . that makes a student-athlete?

For all of the publicity the NCAA puts forth during tournament time (such as the ads that say that most of the 300,000+ student-athletes go pro in something other than their sports), the governing body can't gloss over the fact that some kids are on campus just to play their sport. If I were Greg Oden, I would be, because it's clear that I'm going to play for (a great deal of) money very quickly after my matriculation. Whether that makes guys like student-athletes, though, is another story. And why the NCAA should go to great lengths to stress its academic mission for kids who play revenue-generating sports is beyond me. It seems like the governing body care a whole lot more about the image of its member schools than the member schools do.

Also, what's with "The Ohio State University"? Are those who went to or go to the school in Columbus, Ohio concerned that there are bad imitations out there, such as an Ohio State that is in its formative years in Duluth and a cut-rate mail order Ohio State that's based in Bayonne, New Jersey or an Ohio State that's based in Bangalore? I just don't get it. Why add the "The"? Is it really necessary?

Funny, too, because at some point in middle-school grammar teachers discuss when to use definite and indefinite articles, and it seems that the definite article is misplaced before "Ohio State University." It doesn't belong there, and it wasn't needed when Bob Knight hooped for Fred Taylor and when Woody Hayes coached Rex Kern and Archie Griffin.

But a student-athlete playing in the Final Four would know that, wouldn't he?

Then again, with all the money some of the players on each of the teams will make pretty quickly, they can pay the kids at their schools who drive ten year-old cars, live in dorms and work a job to help pay tuition and will become junior executives in training programs upon graduation to help them with those grammatical distinctions should they need to make them later in life.

And, odds are, they probably won't.

So what's the point?

Heck if I know, except I wish the NCAA would go lighter on the p.r. machine. After all, four outstanding teams have made the Final Four, and even Billy Packer has been tolerable.

March Madness?

Only so far as student-athletes are concerned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sportsprof, let's not stigmatize "The History of Rock and Roll." The music is one of the most remarkable individual and world-transforming art forms America has produced. It's had more impact than basketball as an export. And the teacher of that class is a Harvard Ph D. in ethnomusicology who knows his stuff.

As fare as the "The" in the name, it's the old insecurity thing I've noticed in many academic and cultural institutions in creating their titles with singular loft. One of my colleagues who teaches on "The" beautiful campus in a pretty cool college town refers to it as a "Fifth rate university trying to become a third rate universty." I've never thought it was very charitable of them to say that, especially of their employer, but maybe it speaks to the "The" question.

Then again some people a while back weren't satisfied with the (The?) College of New Jersey. But Princeton's royal ascendance is hardly alone.

The University of Louisiana changed its name when Paul Tulane helped endow the place in the late 19th century. The former College of Rhode Island still pays your former first choice to coach the former College of New Jersey's basketball team. Then there's the University of Pennsylvania that decided later in life that their egalitarian historic commonweath associations should be rebranded with the preppier sounding "Penn" (the University press office actually dictates that a first mention in any article about it should use the full official historic name and all subsequent references should be Penn. Informally Penn has been its name for years, but after the branding started so did an era when tPenn rose from 13-15th rankings in US News to #4 and therabouts ... just behind HYP. Now that's a final four of sorts...or they would like some of us to think so. Can the The Ohio State University be far behind? Certainly not at The Final Four.

BTW. Georgetown's ascendancy with the"souped up" Princeton offense was a major subtext of the Richard Just article.

A few years back when Utah looked a bit like what's happend at Georgetown, someone called it "Princeton with muscles." Not sure how the G-town (a great school) players stack up to your (legit) concerns. In beating both Vandy and UNC, one hopes that it was the "smart and strong" taking from the smart and strong" in each case.


11:23 PM  

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