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The greatest irony in all of education, perhaps lost on all the academicians who dismiss athletics, is that education has become a sport. It is awash in competition, scorekeeping, scoreboard watching.
Test scores hold school systems hostage, regardless of whether they measure learning. Funding depends on arbitrary test score numbers. The NCAA has determined that its member schools may not participate in the NCAA tournament without a proper score on the Academic Progress Rate. Scores are posted. It's all a game.
This is prologue for what befell the University of Connecticut recently. Two of its former men's basketball players, Tony Robertson and Taliek Brown, became college graduates. Their educational epiphanies came long after they left UConn, Robertson 32 years old and Brown 30. Their stories can't be told enough, really, because they deliver an enduring message to starstruck young people:
Tomorrow has this habit of showing up. And you better prepare yourself.
Funny thing, though, about their accomplishments. Seems the NCAA has issued a statute of limitations on progress. Translation: UConn gets no credit within any NCAA parameter for the graduation of two student-athletes.
Doesn't that, you know, qualify as another swing and a miss from a bureaucracy that purports to trumpet education?
True enough: The APR and graduation rate scores are fraudulent, reflecting completion, not education. They mean that an athlete got through. No more, no less. And if you happened to take those apocryphal courses author Dan Jenkins calls "weight lift management" and "physical beingness" you, too, can graduate with a degree and make your institution look spiffy.
But until the greater minds of higher education concoct a better way to measure "progress," this is all we've got. It's sort of like Churchill's old line about how democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
Except that Robertson and Brown are some of the best examples of progress. They didn't graduate with their classes or within a subjective NCAA timeline. So now they don't count. Shouldn't they?
Shouldn't their stories have more than rhetorical usefulness?
So I asked ESPN's Jay Bilas. Bilas, who could be the president of the NCAA were he not grossly overqualified, has been critical of the NCAA, the APR and all the inherent hypocrisies. He is a voice of influence, of reason, of hope for change.
Bilas wasn't necessarily in agreement that UConn deserved "credit" for Brown and Robertson. Not in the way the NCAA keeps score, anyway.
"I'm for education. The more the better. What they did is great," Bilas said in a recent phone conversation. "But an athletic organization linking education to graduation when there are so many different variables is silly. The APR is ridiculous. It tells you as much about education as someone's weight tells you about their overall health.
"It's like saying everyone's health is measured against weighing 195 pounds," Bilas said. "People come in all different sizes and shapes. It doesn't measure anything."
It does not. Which is why the cases of Brown and Robertson could and should affect change within how progress is measured. They played basketball here. They graduated here. The NCAA's failure to devise a mechanism to recognize their graduations suggests they're less relevant because their graduations happened 10 years later. I'd make the argument that Brown and Robertson are more educated now than they've ever been. With a higher reverence for learning.
Isn't that the story the NCAA wants to tell?
We should be in agreement that statutes of limitation should never exist about good news. About progress. About a positive message. And yet two of UConn's best examples are postscripts in the NCAA books. It's not right. But then, that's lockstep precision with the way the NCAA does business.
Next time the NCAA holds its convention, perhaps the poohbahs can spare us the lectures about - gasp - gambling and just get straight to the matter of adjusting mechanisms of academic progress. The best examples right now aren't recognized.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.