BY DENISE CLAY/ While I am a proud graduate of Temple University, I didn’t start my academic career there.
I started college in September 1982 at The Ohio State University, one of those places where football is king and everything else is kinda inconsequential.
I used to type papers for members of the football team … and sometimes the words were not their own. In fact, they often weren’t. I just had flashbacks to that time when former University of North Carolina basketball star Rashad McCants told ESPN that he made the Dean’s List at that university … despite not attending any classes.So when I sat down with Steve Satell to talk about his book Trying to Make This Thing Right, which detailed his days as an academic tutor for the University of Massachusetts basketball team under former coach John Calipari, I asked him about McCants admission.
He wasn’t surprised.
“I see a linkage between what happened at North Carolina and what I saw at UMass,” he said. “It’s a culture. [Collegiate athletics] has become a high-stakes game. In 45 states, the highest-paid public employee is a college coach.”
As a tutor at the beginning of UMass’s run to college-basketball prominence, Satell worked with the first Proposition 48 players at the university. Under the NCAA’s Proposition 48, college athletes that are admitted without having the required grades or SAT scores are made to sit out their freshman year so that they can get the academics down before taking the court or field.
Satell’s job was to work with the first Prop 48 player that the university admitted, a student named Kennard Robinson, who is currently an assistant basketball coach at City College of New York.
The Philadelphia native not only got Robinson on track academically, he helped him make Honor Roll grades in classes like economics. Considering I not only failed economics, but failed it badly, I was immediately impressed.
But when UMass went to the Sweet 16 in 1992, academics were still important … just not so much, Satell said. It became more about Calipari and his ascent than it was about the team, something that made some players decide that they’d had enough.
“People started to transfer,” he said. “It became hard for them to play for him. The team didn’t do as well.”
The last straw for Satell was when a tutor had been set up to write a paper for a player who was having academic troubles. Satell went to Calipari to talk about it. But when the coach didn’t make the player do his own work, Satell went to the Provost’s office instead.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens in college athletics all the time.
If you want to read Trying to Make This Thing Right, you can find it on Amazon.com and at Black & Nobel bookstore on Erie Avenue.