Do Athletes Get Unfair Aid Making the Grade?

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Alesia Daily Herald Sports Feature Writer

With four full-time counselors, a six-figure budget, two computer rooms and 150 tutors devoted to helping athletes with academics, Indiana University is not unusual among Big Ten schools.

When the job is done right at Indiana and elsewhere, these people help athletes bridge the gap between classes and big-time sports.

"They're a unique population, with little time," said Elizabeth "Buzz" Kurpius of Indiana, president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

When the job is done wrong, they get into situations such as the one that could award Northwestern a Rose Bowl victory by forfeit.

The NCAA is investigating Southern Cal, which defeated Northwestern in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, after a Los Angeles Times story alleged that some USC players were steered to an education class they passed without doing any work.

The class - titled Tutoring Elementary, Secondary or University Students - had 75 percent athletes, including football star Keyshawn Johnson.

The school confirmed that virtually everyone received an A. The teacher said he did not require attendance and that students could collaborate on papers.

Murray Sperber, author of College Sports Inc.: The Athletic Department Vs. The University, said it's not surprising that problems occur with athletic department academic counseling.

"If you're letting athletes in school with SAT scores hundreds of points below what regular students need to get in, it's an attempt to close the gap as quickly as possible," Sperber said of the counseling. "But the gap is so huge and vast, it's hard to close. It's not a large step for people to cheat."

Nobody excuses cheating, but some would look at athletic department academic counseling from a different angle.

They would say the schools owe athletes honest help. After all, the schools recruit the players, make them practice long hours and profit from their physical ability at the ticket window.

Richard McGuire of Virginia, a past president of the athletic academic advisors association, said 30 athletes in a classroom of 40, as was the case at USC, should be avoided.

"That's something we prefer not to have happen," McGuire said. "If there are too many student-athletes in a class, it can change the chemistry. If there are 30 people in a class and 20 are football players, it can alter the environment."

It doesn't necessarily take an athletic department counselor for word to get around, among athletes and non-athletes, about an easy class. …