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Unlike other countries, where clubs and junior leagues precede the pros, American colleges serve as feeders — and unholy ones at that.
The Alabama and Texas football teams weren't totally unscathed in 2009 — with arrests for domestic violence, DUI and robbery between them — but were spared any major scandals. That is unless you consider the academics of the UT football team to be one.
The Institute for Diversity & Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida produces an annual report monitoring graduation rates of bowl-bound teams. Here's what Mack Brown's $5 million annual salary delivers in the classroom. Of 67 NCAA bowl teams in the NCAA (UCLA's stats were not available at the time), only three have a lower graduation rate for football players than Texas' 49 percent — and only two have a worse graduation rate for black players than Texas' 37 percent. (Alabama does significantly better, a gentleman's C for its 67 and 63 percent graduation rates.)
Both Texas and Alabama will hasten to explain that their academic numbers have been improving, that the football programs are largely self-supporting and that the teams are instrumental in fostering alumni support for the university. Admittedly it is sometimes hard to parse all the numbers — but not the public interest.
While the public school and university systems in Texas and Alabama are cash-starved and in decline, the huge investment — both financial and emotional — in major sports programs sends an unmistakable message as to where priorities lie. Perhaps private universities have the right (and possibly even the money) to showcase sports; at state universities, like Texas and Alabama, the same choice is cynical, even reckless.
Tonight's game should be entertaining and garner strong ratings. But its bottom line is not the score or the championship trophy, but a lost sense of purpose in American higher education.