HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel shows UNC not alone in academics with athletics struggle

Posted by Laura Keeley on March 24, 2014 

If you’re familiar with the News & Observer at all, you’re most likely aware that my colleague, Dan Kane, has exhaustively reported on the academic scandal at North Carolina, the one with fraudulent no-show classes designed to keep athletes eligible. I’m not going to rehash his work— check out this landing page if you need an introduction or a refresher.

Living in this area makes it easy to stare at the tree and miss the forest—UNC is not the only school that has compromised its academic standards in attempts to keep athletes eligible. In reality, there is a nationwide failure to properly educate the athletes colleges have recruited for athletic purposes.

HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel will tackle this issue Tuesday night at 10 p.m. in approximately a 14-minute segment titled Gaming the Sys tem, a look at NCAA student-athlete academic reform ( watch the trailer here). Yes, UNC is included. But so are several other prominent schools, too.

The piece opens with former Memphis football player Dasmine Cathey, who came to Memphis in 2008 and graduated in Dec. 2011 despite failing 13 classes and racking up seven Ds. He goes into his room and pulls out a shoebox full of Dr. Seuss-type books. He then explains how he would lock himself in his room, pull out the books, and try to teach himself to read.

Remember, he graduated from Memphis.

The former overseer of academic serves for athletics at Oklahoma, Gerald Gurney, tells his tale of how his job was to keep football players eligible and on track to graduate so the Sooners could continue on with their proud football tradition. Later in the show, Eric Mensick, a former Oklahoma football player who graduated in 2010 with a degree in multi-disciplinary studies, goes through the difficulties he has had finding a job with "a diploma not worth much."

Baylor, Michigan and Iowa State are briefly mentioned as examples of schools who have intentionally created vague majors designed to keep athletes eligible, not educate them. And yes, North Carolina gets ample face time in this production, too, with on-camera interviews of former football players Bryon Bishop (who played for John Bunting) and Mike McAdoo (a Butch Davis recruit who played a major role in exposing the scandal three years ago), along with learning specialist Mary Willingham.

HBO paints the most complete picture of the difficult marriage between big-time sports and athletics. Duke athletic director Kevin White put it best in December when he called athletics the mistress of higher education. "Can’t live with us, can’t live without us," he added, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Mike Vorkunov.

Indeed, college athletics comprise a lucrative multi-billion dollar industry, in which the athletes’ main compensation is an academic scholarship. But if athletes like Bryon Bishop, Mike McAdoo, Eric Mensick and Dasmine Cathey aren’t getting educated, what’s the point.

"You can’t see what’s going on in the system," says Bishop, who now works a low-skill job at a drug treatment facility, "until it’s too late."

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