Scholarship at Mizzou | Bleader

Scholarship at Mizzou


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Missouri football
  • Missouri football
My recent Bleader post on declining educational standards at the University of Missouri football program has brought a tart retort from that program's media spokesman.

"I must say that I am disappointed—especially with you being a Mizzou alumnus—that you wouldn’t have taken the time to contact me, or somebody here at Mizzou, before writing what you did," Chad Moller e-mailed me over the weekend. "Surely you have to know that academics are important to us here at Mizzou. They always have been and always will be. One student-athlete’s recounting of his experience (and he has embellished some important facts) is just that—one person."

I don't have to know that—it's up to Moller to persuade me. But as he said, I hadn't given him the chance. The April 5 post Moller objected to was bluntly titled "Trust me, academics used to be important at Missouri." I focused on former wide receiver Sean Coffey, who the night before had been interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas during a two-hour "town hall" Costas moderated on college sports. Coffey told Costas that when he got to Missouri his academic adviser told him to major in agriculture, a subject he had no interest in. He came to realize the academic adviser's job wasn't to help him get an education that would prepare him for life after college—it was simply to keep him eligible. Lip service was paid to the importance of an education, but, Coffey said, "it's evident and glaring that's not really the case."

In my post, I contrasted Coffey's education with the educations received by Mizzou players back in the 60s, when I was a student there. As it happens, I'd recently written a post comparing the football program of that era to the football program today. For that earlier post I did interview Moller, and he made it clear that the demands football makes on a football player today rule out a normal student life—such as belonging to a frat.

"The time commitment you have to give to being a student athlete is not part of being in the Greek system," Moller said. “It’s not mandatory, but when you’re done with football season the guys go home for winter break and come back and start the off-season workouts. It’s officially voluntary by NCAA rules, but guys do it. They know if they want to compete for a job in the fall they’ve got to do it.” After a week or two off when the spring semester ends, “they come back voluntarily and they take summer school and that’s good! And again they’re working out over the summer with the strength coach, the conditioning coach."

Moller didn't say anything was wrong with this schedule. But he'd candidly described it.

He attached to his weekend e-mail a story on Coffey he called "very fair" because it did contain the views of "academic folk" at Mizzou. It was written by Dave Matter of the local Columbia Daily Tribune.

Matter wrote that Joe Scogin, Missouri's associate athletic director for academic services, "refuted" Coffey's comments. If we accept the dictionary definition of refute—to prove to be wrong—Scogin did nothing of the sort. What he did do was throw a different light on Coffey's complaints. In Coffey's view, he was told to major in a field he didn't give a damn about. Scogin's view is more intricate; he asks us to consider the tough spot the university finds itself in when it recruits an athlete who doesn't have the grades to enter the academic program he's actually interested in. "Our responsibility to our athletes is to get them the support necessary to pursue all of their dreams," Scogin told Matter. "At some point, there are times when those dreams are not realistic anymore, and what we try to do is provide them options to get the experience or knowledge needed to continue in a certain line of work but in a different fashion."

To the university, this is apparently making the best of an awkward situation. To the freshman athlete showing up on campus, I can see why it would look more like an academic bait-and-switch.

Matter pointed out that "last May, Missouri's football team produced the highest Academic Progress Rate in the Big 12 Conference for the 2009-10 academic year." He explained that the NCAA defines the APR as "a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates."

How exactly to measure the ongoing eligibility of an athlete mired in classes that don't interest him is the sort of question the athlete and his athletic department are likely to answer very differently. Costas let Coffey make his point of view clear. Matter granted the same favor to the athletic department. Matter wrote:

"We require our athletes to see their campus academic advisor in their major every single semester," Scogin said. "Our athletes see their campus advisors more than the general campus population just because we require it. We work very closely with the professional advisors in every single major to make sure our students are provided the correct information."

With both campus and athletic department resources at the athletes' disposal, Scogin said he tells recruits and their parents that "you really have to work harder in our program to not be successful than you do to be successful."

That's especially true for football players, said wide receiver T.J. Moe, a business management major who's on pace to graduate in December after 3½ years.

"It's darn near impossible to fail out of school unless you're trying to because there's every little resource you need," he said. "If you're not doing good, you're in 10-12 hours of study hall every week. … You're going to stay eligible, but it's whether or not you want to make something out of it."

The emphasis that Scogin, implicitly, and Moe, explicitly, place on staying eligible doesn't even contradict, much less refute, what Coffey told Costas. If at Mizzou, it's darn near impossible to be declared ineligible—well, Coffey said as much. Not that he graduated after he'd used up his eligibility.

"I ended up going back," Coffey told Costas, "and it ended up all working out in the end."

"And you got your degree?" Costas asked.

"Correct," Coffey answered.

"But not at Missouri . . ." Matter wrote. "Scogin confirmed that Coffey never fulfilled his requirements to earn his degree and never graduated from MU."

Coffey didn't say he'd graduated from Missouri—though I guess Scogin can be forgiven for jumping to that conclusion. Is Scogin (and Matter's) point that Coffey should be disregarded because he didn't graduate—even though the university kept him a student in good standing until he'd used up his eligibility?

UPDATE: Chad Moller emailed these further thoughts Monday:

We do things the right way here, and if your concern is our academics, let me assure you that we don’t steer kids into “blow-off” majors. Every kid is given a chance to pursue what major they would like, and they’re given the opportunity to show they can excel in their first few semesters. To use an athletic analogy, it’s a lot like football itself, in that every kid we recruit is given the chance to play the position he wants. If they aren’t able to show that they can make an impact at that position, many times they’ll be given an opportunity to move to another position where they can make an impact.

Just like with any non-athlete, if someone struggles with classes, then our advisors will absolutely work with them and see if an alternate path is most advisable. Generically speaking, if someone wants to go into business school, you have to get admitted into business school, just like J-school. If you don’t show you can do that in your first year, then you have to adjust your plans, and you can still get great training in business-related classes with other schools.