What do you do with a college student that cannot read or write at a college level?  Obviously, at most colleges, if the person in question is a major asset to your lucrative football or basketball programs; the answer is that you ignore it.

A recent CNN investigation found public universities across the country where many students in the basketball and football programs could read only up to an eighth-grade level.  The data obtained through open records requests also showed a staggering achievement gap between college athletes and their peers at the same institution.

CNN chose a sampling of public universities where open records laws apply. They sought data from a total of 37 institutions, of which 21 schools responded.  The others denied their request for entrance exam or aptitude test scores, some saying the information did not exist and others citing privacy rules.

A graduate student at UNC-Greensboro researched the reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill athletes who played football or basketball from 2004 to 2012.  She found that 60% read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels.  Between 8% and 10% read below a third-grade level.

The issue was highlighted at UNC two years ago with the exposure of a scandal where students, many of them athletes, were given grades for classes they didn’t attend, and where they did nothing more than turn in a single paper.  Last month, a North Carolina grand jury indicted a professor at the center of the scandal on fraud charges.  He’s accused of being paid $12,000 for a class he didn’t teach.  But fake classes were just a symptom of the bigger problem of enrolling good athletes who didn’t have the reading skills to succeed at college.

If you have not figured it out yet, NCAA sports are big business, with millions of dollars at stake for winning programs.  In 2012, the University of Louisville earned a profit of $26.9 million from its men’s basketball program.  That’s about 60% more than the $16.9 million profit at the University of North Carolina, whose men’s hoops team had the second-largest profit.

NCAA officials admit there are probably stories that are troubling, but they also say the vast majority of student-athletes compete at a high level in the classroom.  “Are there students coming to college underprepared? Sure. They are not just student-athletes,” said Kevin Lennon, vice president of academic and membership affairs at the NCAA.  But the NCAA sees it as the responsibility of those universities to decide what level athlete should be admitted to their schools, not the NCAA.

Why is there no national standard of performance required for all students requesting admission into colleges, regardless of their ability to play football or basketball?  It is because the universities, in question, care only about the revenue that is brought in by big name sports programs.  Why else do you see college coaches receiving multi-million dollar contracts?  They want those decisions with the president, provost and athletic directors.

The truth be told, most colleges and universities turn a blind eye to what is happening on their campuses and few people are even investigating this phenomenon.

Based on data from those requests and dozens of interviews, a CNN investigation revealed that most schools have between 7% and 18% of revenue sport athletes who are reading at an elementary school level.  Some had even higher percentages of below-threshold athletes. According to those academic experts, the threshold for being college-literate is a score of 400 on the SAT critical reading or writing test.  On the ACT, that threshold is 16.  Many student-athletes scored in the 200s and 300s on the SAT critical reading test — a threshold that experts told us was an elementary reading level and too low for college classes.  The lowest score possible on that part of the SAT is 200, and the national average is 500.  On the ACT, we found some students scoring in the single digits, when the highest possible score is 36 and the national average is 20.  In most cases, the team average ACT reading score was in the high teens.

It is in many ways immoral for the university to even admit that student.  College presidents have put in jeopardy the academic credibility of their universities just so we can have this entertainment industry. … The NCAA continually wants to ignore this fact, but they are admitting students who cannot read.

College textbooks are written at the ninth-grade level, so we are putting these elite athletes into classes where they can’t understand the textbooks.  Imagine yourself sitting in a class where nothing makes sense.

So, what happens to these college athletes…they fail to graduate, or they earn a degree that is not worth the paper that it is written on.  The real slap in the face is those college students who do the hard work and legitimately earn their degrees, but all degrees appear equal to an employer.  So, where is the justice in that?

In December, the Drake Group, which pushes for academic integrity in collegiate sports, organized a lobbying trip to Washington to push for an amendment to the College Education Act of 1965.  Director Allen Sack said he wants to see a College Athlete Protection Act — legislation that would keep athletes on the bench as freshmen if they are academically more than one standard deviation lower than the average student admitted to the university.  U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania introduced legislation in the House last year that calls for a complete overhaul of the NCAA.  When he talked to CNN, he cited the lack of consistency in the way recent NCAA investigations into various improprieties were handled at Auburn, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Ohio State and Penn State.

But, we all know which side is going to win out and I guess greed always trumps honesty and ethical behavior.

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