Big-time college athletics departments make a lot of money, and that somehow has created an eternal cat-and-mouse game with certain media outlets hoping to catch college sports with its pants down. We saw it with Sports Illustrated in the fall, and now HBO has taken its turn through its "Real Sports" magazine show headed by Bryant Gumble.
Real Sports has taken aim at North Carolina, Memphis and Oklahoma, in an attempt to show how college athletes that haven't received a college-level education. I haven't seen the piece so I can't comment on what supposed dirt they have on North Carolina or Memphis, but their piece on Oklahoma actually made me feel better about the academic side of Bob Stoops' program.
If you're not up to speed, here's the gist of it: Former Oklahoma offensive lineman Eric Mensik is a 25-year-old college graduate that doesn't use his degree and doesn't have the job he'd like. Mensik started as a business major but then switched to multidisciplinary studies (at his own behest) after failing calculus. I don't know the number of prospective business students that change majors every year because they can't pass calculus, but I'd safely assume it's in the thousands. That's just life.
And, basically, that's all the dirt HBO could find on Oklahoma.
When asked Tuesday, Stoops had the perfect answer waiting. “It doesn’t bother me a bit,” Stoops said on HBO's investigation. “You talk to one guy out of the thousands that have been through here? Pretty simple to say and all you have to do is listen to what Gabe Ikard, who’s just won a scholastic scholarship and has been up for the scholastic Heisman and who is multidisciplinary studies and is going to be a doctor when he’s finished.”
Ikard was one of 16 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy last fall, the most prestigious academic award in college football. He also won the Wuerffel Trophy for his work in the classroom and in the community.
Stoops continued: “I wouldn’t imagine Eric is the only 25-year-old that doesn’t have the job he wants, right? I bet there are quite a few out there that are trying to get a better job. He’s a great young man and I don’t know what all it’s going to be, but I know we’re very proud about how hard we work with our guys.”
I wonder if the folks at HBO, or the media at large, knows that 59 percent of the general student population at four-year colleges graduate within six years according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The FBS graduation rate in 2013 was 70 percent. The general student population would actually rank in the bottom quarter of FBS.
This isn't to excuse the bad programs that don't graduate as many kids as they should, and it's certainly not meant to make Mensik look bad. College football programs provide an incredible opportunity to their players, and should certainly be held responsible for any academic shortcomings, but at some point, as long as the coaches and support staff are doing everything in their power to help student-athletes succeed, the onus falls on their players to pick up their opportunity and run with it.