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The Myth of the Student Athlete

December 31, 2007

I just finished watching the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, in which the University of Kentucky barely squeaked out a win against a depleted Florida State University.  I’ve been somewhat out of the loop, so I was amused to find that almost half of the FSU team didn’t make the trip because they were busted in a cheating scandal that involved an online exam on a music history test.

As the story goes, an instructor at Florida State provided the same exact test for seven consecutive semesters.  The answers to the test were well-known, not just to the football academic tutors, but also to the rest of the non-student athletes enrolled in the class.  Let’s give Florida State some credit here for some self-policing that other institutions (like the University of Kentucky, for instance) would never have done.

But seriously, does this incident not provide another nugget of proof that the sports media has made the concept of “student athlete” an illusion?  Florida State isn’t the only university that provides its athletes a “generous” amount of academic “assistance.”  I’m just amused that a cheating scandal has erupted on a black-and-white test, where the lines between academic honesty and dishonesty are much more clearly drawn then they are in a writing class.  It’s much harder to quantify the degree of “help” that many athlete-students receive as they write essays.

I also think it’s interesting that not many people are ridiculing the music history professor for his (or her) lackluster pedagogy.  The same exact online test for seven semesters?  Perhaps the Florida State incident should be a clarion call for an improved approach to undergraduate education in our land grant institutions.  Who cares if half of Florida State’s team wasn’t able to make the trip.

For the record though, they played a great game.


From → Lexington, Sports

  1. Josh permalink

    These academic “crack downs” are merely cosmetic and palliative, a way for the public at large to feel good about something “being done” about what has become a big joke that everyone is in on. Kind of like the occasional catch of athletes using performance enhancing drugs.

    I think it is telling that the story hardly received much attention by the sports media. Basically, the real story was that FSU was playing with a depleted squad, not that this was a symptom of a widespread diseased system.

    And frankly, I wonder if people care whether or not players are legitimate students or not. Everyone jokes about the whole “basket weaving” classes. I remember that the Lexington Herald Leader staff would get death threats when they revealed the torrid mess at Kentucky that led to NCAA sanctions, as if the paper was the one at fault. Hush hush don’t tell.

    I like how you pointed out that the professor should get some scrutiny for using the same tests year after year. But, just as we don’t care if athletes do well in school, as long as they win, college administrators don’t care how the professors teach, as long as they publish. In fact, the world of academics becomes more and more like the big-time sports market, with professors coming in, making promises, signing contracts, and then jumping mid-major programs for better pay and more prestige.

  2. Josh: I couldn’t agree more. I found myself rolling my eyes today in all staff when representatives of CATS were pitching the center as a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Is the myth of the student athlete some kind of joke we’re playing on ourselves?

    Even so (I thought to myself), college athletics and the plentiful systems of financial and academic support dedicated to them is a way of leveling the system and giving an education to some people who otherwise might not get to receive such an experience.

  3. Ian permalink

    Sports are also meant to draw attention to a school in order to attract prospective students.

  4. At least once a semester I meet a student in my class who says that he (or she) decided to come to UK because they were lifelong fans of the basketball program. I couldn’t think of a worse reason to decide on a college.

    Ultimately posturing athletics as a “drawing point” to lure in potential students reinforces the perception that students are consumers, partaking in a product and experience that suits their tastes.

  5. duffman permalink


    become a fan of the smaller sports at UK..

    a) they need your support

    b) they get their degrees

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