I was amused to read recently that Bob De Carolis, the rookie athletic director at Oregon State, has decided he's going to turn our little cow college into the Harvard of the West.
Well, not exactly, but he plans to push the Beavers' athletes toward tougher academic standards than the rest of the Pacific-10 Conference. He wants them to take more credit hours per term, attend summer classes and do community service.
Of course, De Carolis made these proposals in front of the OSU Faculty Senate, which qualifies him as one of sports' biggest grandstanders of 2003. I mean, move over Terrell Owens.
Of course, Oregon State coaches can't say much about this or they'll be seen as being soft on academics. But you can't tell me the Beavers can be competitive in their league if they're going to be holding their athletes to higher standards than everyone else.
It plays well to the faculty, but I'm not sure how it will play with the boosters or, more importantly, the athletes. You know them, right? The ones who practice 20 hours a week, do all the film and playbook study, then attend all the offseason 'voluntary' workouts? Sorry, but for those people Ñ the ones playing football Ñ their community service comes every Saturday in the fall when they drag their tired and beat-up bodies onto the field to try to please the paying customers.
All this fuss over graduation rates in college sports is a joke. Division I athletes get free education, tutors, advisers, study tables and all the advice in the world on which professors to take and which ones to run from. They earn all that with their sweat, of course. I don't begrudge them.
If they fail to graduate, so what? They probably had more help than you did. Or your kids. Maybe they didn't even want to graduate. That's OK, too. But can't we begin to hold the athletes accountable for their own success or failure?
I can tell you as a parent of a son who was once recruited by colleges, I laugh at the notion that a college or a coach would have been responsible for my son's success or failure as a student. In his case, a shoulder injury ended the baseball dream and the lad was bright enough to transfer out of a school that really didn't suit him, anyway Ñ other than on the diamond.
The coach who recruited him had found him financial aid, an on-campus job and a real opportunity to play college baseball. He's an outstanding coach, by the way, and has since moved on to the Pac-10. But my son certainly affected his graduation rate in a negative way.
ÊAnd I'd be an idiot to blame the coach. Just as I'd be a fool to listen to a big-time coach assure me that the graduation rate at his school is very high and, in some way, that means something to me or my child. You know, the only graduation rate I ever cared about was the one at my dinner table Ñ where my two kids sat.Ê And I placed the responsibility for their college success on them and nobody else.
Oregon State is the same school, by the way, where Jerry Pettibone coached football for six seasons and managed to graduate just about all of his players. But he was fired, and rightly so, because he won just 13 games in 66 tries.
Yes, they're student-athletes. Or athlete-students. But the fact is, most of the athletes in Corvallis are not turning down offers from Princeton or Stanford. And they aren't streaming out of Southern California, Arizona and Nevada to attend OSU so they can major in biological engineering, animal science, forest products or rangeland resources.
This is Division I. They are on campus to play football or basketball.
They are given the opportunity for a free education while they're around and, please, let's make them take the responsibility for graduating. If they don't, it's on them. And then we can leave their coaches alone Ñ with a fair chance to hold on to their jobs by keeping the academic playing field level.