Is it time to give football the boot?

American high schools care more about sports than academics, charges Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic.

football

Last year in Texas, whose small towns are the spiritual home of high-school football and the inspiration for Friday Night Lights, the superintendent brought in to rescue one tiny rural school district did something insanely rational. In the spring of 2012, after the state threatened to shut down Premont Independent School District for financial mismanagement and academic failure, Ernest Singleton suspended all sports—including football.

To cut costs, the district had already laid off eight employees and closed the middle-school campus, moving its classes to the high-school building; the elementary school hadn’t employed an art or a music teacher in years; and the high school had sealed off the science labs, which were infested with mold. Yet the high school still turned out football, basketball, volleyball, track, tennis, cheerleading, and baseball teams each year.

Football at Premont cost about $1,300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student. For the price of one football season, the district could have hired a full-time elementary-school music teacher for an entire year. But, despite the fact that Premont’s football team had won just one game the previous season and hadn’t been to the playoffs in roughly a decade, this option never occurred to anyone.

Without football, Premont focused on academics. There were fewer fights. Eighty percent of the students passed their classes in the first sports-free semester, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.

Now out of debt, Premont brought back baseball, track, and tennis.

Competitive sports dominate childhood for higher-class families, writes Hilary Levey Friedman.

Powderpuff football is sexist, dangerous

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Powderpuff football is sexist, divisive and dangerous, according to the principal of a suburban Boston high school. Newton South Principal Joel Stembridge canceled the school’s annual girls’ flag football game, which pits juniors against seniors.

On The Corner, Andrew Johnson links to a screenshot of principal’s e-mail on Acculturated.

The principal lists the five reasons why the tradition was ended, such as injuries and “destabiliz[ing] our normally supportive, welcoming, intimidation-free school environment.” The gender-specific nature of the game also resulted in its cancelation.

“In terms of gender politics, the name ‘powerderpuff,’ which most students still call the game, inadvertently serves to mock the hard-fought struggles of female athletes to be taken seriously and, we think, perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity and female athletes,” the e-mail read.

In addition, the game “does not include the whole school” or “celebrate the diversity of interests of our students, nor does it encourage appreciation for the skills and/or expertise developed here at South.”

By this logic, Newton South should cancel varsity football too.

In a word, yes

Is it fair to put the total blame on a student’s academic performance on his or her coach?

That’s one of the questions with which Valerie Strauss (it must be a Strauss sort of day; my last post was spurred by her as well… so many thanks to Ms. Strauss) ends this blog post, which discusses some comments from our nation’s Secretary of Education.

The larger question at issue is whether college coaches — particularly public university coaches — should be fined for athletes’ failure to graduate.

I say that the answer is obviously yes. And the reason is this: it’s not that the coach has control of the student’s academics… but the coach does have a surprising amount of control over who gets admitted to the school on the basis of athletics. If coaches know that they’ll be held responsible, there will be an incentive not to recruit students who don’t have a realistic chance at graduating.

That’s where you’ll see the effect of this sort of policy.

The trick is that you need to make it so that the penalty for having non-graduating students is bigger than the payoff for having a winning team. Otherwise, the behavior will still persist, because it’s just a smaller incentive pointing in the same direction.

Now, maybe that means that you end up “pricing out” all the best coaches from public universities, so that only private schools like Notre Dame (football) and Duke (basketball) can afford the best coaches. Eh… so what if that happened?* That doesn’t seem like such a bad outcome to me. I’m all for college sports. But they’re called college sports and not just “the minor leagues” for a reason.

I don’t begrudge coaches their millions; I’m a fan of free markets. But a coach is a university employee, and that means that one of their jobs is (or should be) upholding the mission and reputation of the university. And that mission should — and I say “should” in the most skeptical sense — be about turning out educated minds, not about hanging championship banners.

Coaches are also hired to do that, but that job should be tempered by their broader institutional commitments. The job of a university isn’t to make money. That’s simply something universities have to do in order to accomplish their mission.

* (I’d note that neither Notre Dame nor Duke really has the same sort of problem with sports and academics that many big public universities seem to have.)

‘We came here to play FOOTBALL’

Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”

Jones’ comments and his Twitter account have been deleted.

Ohio State ranks in the top 10 percent of Division 1 football teams on the Academic Progress Rate, notes ESPN.

CCs make room for out-of-state athletes

California’s crowded community colleges are cutting classes, turning would-be students away and making room for out-of-state football players.

 

Illiterate in college

A star athlete, Dasmine Cathey got through Memphis schools without learning to read and got a football “scholarship” to the University of Memphis. By studying first-grade books and working with university-paid tutors, he went from illiterate to semi-literate — and nearly earned enough credits for a bachelor’s degree in “interdisciplinary studies.” According to The Education of Dasmine Cathey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, many Memphis football players read below the seventh-grade level. Few are good enough to play professionally. What if they’d gotten help in elementary school?

Cathey, who fathered two children with different girlfriends while in college, now drives a beer truck.

When the team wins, male GPAs lose

When the University of Oregon football team wins, male students’ grades decline, conclude economists who tracked the Ducks’ last nine seasons.

“Our estimates suggest male grades fall significantly with the success of the football team,” the research team, led by Jason Lindo, writes in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. Furthermore, the economists find this effect is “larger among students from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds, and those of relatively low ability.”

Lindo and his colleagues . . . compared grade point averages to the winning percentage of the school’s football team, which ranged over the years from 45 to 92 percent.

“We find that the team’s success significantly reduces male grades relative to female grades,” they write. “This phenomenon is only present in fall quarters, which coincide with the football season.”

Why? Young men drink more and study less to celebrate football victories. Their female classmates also party, but not as hard, surveys indicate.

What’s true for the University of Oregon probably is true for other state universities, the researchers believe.

Oregon is playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

High school football without the high school

Barred from sports at their local school, Maryland homeschoolers have formed their own football teams, which also recruit students from private schools too small to field a team.

Not the NFL

Education should emulate football teams’ zeal to improve, says American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten in her joint interview with Bill Gates in Newsweek.

Football teams . . . look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game. They’re constantly deconstructing what is working and what isn’t working. And they’re jettisoning what isn’t working and building up on what is working, and doing it in a teamlike approach.

The NFL is ruthlessly meritocratic, responds Eduwonk. Performance is everything.

Four NFL coaches have already been fired this year, fairly or not, and you didn’t hear a lot from them about how their players were the problem. 

. . . As to the players, it’s hard to find an institution more at odds with how schools are generally operated than the NFL – and the players are unionized.  The union rules cover basic protections but don’t guarantee players more than minimum salaries.  If, for instance, the NFL operated the way school districts generally do it would have been difficult for Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to bench quarterback Donovan McNabb as he did a few weeks ago.  And, even if he succeeded, McNabb presumably could have “forced transfered” his way into another offense somewhere where he had more seniority than the existing quarterback.

NFL pay is based on performance: Stars make much more than journeymen players.

Boise State can learn from Boise State

Higher Ed Watch’s Academic BCS, which ranks the top college football teams using academic indicators, shows Stanford as number one and Boise State as number two.

Boise State’s football players are more likely to graduate than non-athletes, notes Ben Miller on The Quick and the Ed.  Boise State’s graduation rate is only 26 percent, compared to 52 percent for football players.

. . .  though the black football players do have lower graduation rates than the white members of the team, their 43 percent completion rate is still 20 percentage points higher than the figure for white males at the school overall.

. . . The academic accomplishments of the Boise State football team should provide instructive lessons for the school overall. The university should take a look at the various tutoring and other academic supports given to football players to see which ones could be adopted for the general student body.

The top-ranked football team, Auburn, ranks 20th in the Academic BCS with second-ranked Oregon at 21st.