Friday, June 16, 2006

"Only Connect": E.M. Forster Was Right!

Note: For those who have not read the Dendy story,
try "Forward to Pickens" below.

C of C fires Herrion: Buyout of basketball coache's contract could cost $1 million, screams the banner headline of the Post and Courier, June 15, 2006.

On the same day in the Sports section, Ken Burger's column explains, "Fatal flaw: Herrion just didn't get it."

Burger's Friday follow-up column, "It's academic: What the College needs to learn,"
provides interesting advice to the College and insight to the careful reader.

Well, it's not about LaRon Dendy or Clemson this time, you say? "Only connect"!

Each of these articles (and others speculating on Herrion's replacement) points out that the firing "[constitutes] a messy divorce with strange timing," "timing . . . [suggesting] an unfixable problem," since "the College is left with a basketball program in shambles and a big buyout bill to pay." Okay, Herrion was hired in April 2002; a successful season allowed him to renegotiate his contract in 2003; "his win-loss record slipped a bit each of the [following] three years"; attendance at games dropped off; some players were "showing up on the police blotter" and their academics slipped. None of the foregoing explains the TIMING.

According to Burger's Friday column, grades "broke the camel's back." GRADES??? Of course, not Herrion's grades, but those of his players, spring-semester grades characterized as "pathetic." So outgoing C of C "president Lee Higdon finally" agreed to the firing.

No one would care about the grades except for NCAA rules, those that "require athletes to be on course to graduation at all times." The resulting punishment is a "cost of valuable scholarships" (i.e., the number that can be offered by the C of C), using the definition of scholarship loosely here!

Who is to blame? Herrion is fired, with the added difficulty of finding another job for 2006-07. While he is being raked over the coals, however, the incident requires another look.

In his Friday column, Burger gives some remarkable advice to the C of C. For example, he points out that entering Division I sports "in the early 1990s" meant no more "schoolboy sports," that "a different kind of player" was needed, and "that kind of player is not college material."

Let's be clear on that--"not college material" presumably means not prepared to pass college courses without intervention, that is, being accepted to colleges and universities without meeting the usual entrance requirements. Coaches do not run the admissions department, so such acceptance requires the collusion of admissions (and probably administration).

Well, at a Division II school, this loosening of requirements may help an average student gain entrance to a highly-competitive college; however, because of potential big bucks down the road in professional sports, in Division I, a student may have not met the NCAA requirements for SATs and, in fact, may be reading on the fourth- or fifth-grade level. Far-fetched, you say? Read on.

He goes on to berate the C of C for not acting as the "big" schools did when NCAA eligibility rules were tightened: "build[ing] these expensive academic support systems that basically hand-carry" weak players through college.

Question: Who pays for that? Most, if not all, of the so-called "big" schools are state-funded.

To support his claims, Burger cites the complaint of Steve Spurrier in May about "lack of academic support for football players" at USC and Burger's own knowledge of "huge athletic buildings for academic support" at Clemson and Georgia, "staffed by tutors [who] get athletes to class and make sure they do the work," even push[ing] them through summer school" to become "graduate students in their senior season."

Okay, so how did Clemson get the money for that? And, whose pockets does it come from?

"Way behind the curve" is the way Burger describes C of C. He also wonders if a special program at C of C (SNAP--for "students with learning disabilities") is being abused by coaches (i.e., Herrion) "looking for an edge."

As opposed to not being abused elsewhere? Why would C of C be different, unless players have routinely been routed through SNAP as a substitute for the academic support they would have received at Clemson?

Why the problem now? The College of Charleston entered Division I sports in "the early 1990s," a decade before Herrion was hired. Therefore, if a new kind of athlete were needed, these must have been recruited by John Kresse, who retired in 2002.

Why was Herrion's contract renegotiated in 2003 on the basis of the performance of students recruited by Kresse? Maybe it was the "fog" of victory?

How could C of C players who were "not college material" stay on track to graduate for a decade--from the early 1990s when the college entered Division I (and won a championship in four years!) until 2002 when Kresse retired? Is this why Burger complains about Herrion's not getting along with faculty and administration? As if he didn't smooze enough to get instructors to pass his players? May we ask what Kresse's secret was, if not that?

If the basketball roster is almost exclusively made up of players who spent at least one year at a private prep school prior to entering the C of C, why aren't they better prepared as students? Isn't that what prep schools do? We have now come full circle to LaRon Dendy, who is on track to join recruits at Clemson who have done the same. IS academic preparation what "prep" schools do? For basketball players at Division I schools, apparently not!

Why did the majority of C of C players attend prep schools then? Aha! That takes us back to NCAA rules. If a player's SAT scores are below the minimum, his grade-point average must meet a minimum or the player is red-shirted and must sit out freshman year while he brings up his grades.

[NOTE: A student who could not meet a minimum grade-point doing high-school-level work will now excel doing college-level work.]

Here's where the prep schools perform. Students who do not meet SAT minimums or grade-point minimums are encouraged by Division I schools not to graduate but to enter prep schools instead, where miraculously in a short time they raise their grade-points so that they do not need to red-shirt! As a coach quoted in a New York Times article said earlier this year, "We can't do anything about the SATs." What are coaches talking about? See quote below from a website on NCAA rules:

The "sliding scale" has also been extended. It will now allow a higher core GPA to reduce the SAT component. A 2.5 core GPA will still require a 820 SAT score, a higher core GPA of 2.75 GPA would need a 720 SAT score, a 3.0 core GPA would only require a 620 SAT score and a 3.55 core GPA would require just a 400 SAT score.

So, Tavon Nelson, who left C of C after drug charges against him were dropped, came from South Kent Prep in Connecticut, having started out at a Baltimore public high school; Josh Jackson, from Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts (a school of 38 students, half of whom are seniors); Dontaye Draper, from Trinity-Pauling of New York; Jermaine Johnson, from Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts (tuition $34,000 per year); Junior Hairston, from Fork Union Military Academy; Marcus Hammond, from Brewster Academy; Drew Hall, from Montrose Christian Academy in Maryland via two years at Georgetown after being turned down as a sophomore transfer to Gonzaga for not meeting academic standards.

The team's record's slipping for each of the last three years suggests recruiting problems, does it not? Kresse's recruits graduate and Herrion's take their places? What changed? Obvious answer is, the coach, but perhaps strengthened athletic academic programs at "big" schools also played a role. And another mystery arises.

Who pays the prep school tuition?

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