Friday, 14 July 2006

Auburn athletics in sham course scandal

EDSBS links a New York Times piece from yesterday detailing some rather creative use of independent study classes by a professor in the Auburn sociology department who was apparently in cahoots with an athletic tutor to give Tiger jocks cheap A’s. The money quote in my book:

[Carnell “Cadillac”] Williams said one of the two directed-reading courses he took with Professor [Thomas] Petee during the spring of 2005 was a statistics class.

Asked if that course, considered the most difficult in the sociology major, was available to regular students as a directed reading, Professor Petee said, “No, not usually.”

Mr. Williams described the class this way: “You’re just studying different kinds of math. It’s one of those things where you write a report about the different theories and things like that.”

The NCAA is, as they say, investigating, although I ultimately expect little more than a wrist-slap for Tommy Tuberville’s rogue program down on the Plains, in large part because this (and similar) petty corruption is widespread in college football. One example: I have it on good authority that at least one NFL star who was an Ole Miss criminal justice major was as dumb as a post yet somehow managed to maintain his eligibility through softball-lobbing instructors and professors, with generous assists from the athletic tutors. Most people who’ve spent any time around Division I schools can probably tell similar stories—particularly if they’ve been in or near what Prof. Karlson artfully refers to as the Division of Cooling Out the Mark.

That said, directed readings courses may be the soft underbelly of grade inflation more generally for athlete and non-athlete alike; certainly it’s hard to give out many C’s and D’s when you really have no other students to compare a directed readings student to, although in theory professors shouldn’t be letting bad students in independent study courses in the first place (so there may be a selection bias issue here).


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Even though special treatment for athletes has been a problem for ages, it still gets my goat to read about specific instances. I think it undermines the credibility of the entire institution, not just the athletic department. Auburn will forever be tainted in my estimation.


I am a longtime skeptic of big-time college sports and its impact on academic integrity, but this particular story is a load of crap. If you actually read the NYT article and many of the follow-ups in other publications, there’s just no there there.

So a lone professor was being way too generous with “independent studies” classes (he has since stopped)—it’s embarrassing for Auburn academically, but only 25% of the students in these classes were athletes. Even the rival professor who leaked this story admits that athletes did not get higher grades than the non-athletes who took these classes.

Yes, Carnell Williams took two apparently easy classes from Dr. Petee—but he had already used up his football eligibility, so what was the motive to cheat?

In short, this is an instance of a sports reporter arrogantly attempting to shoehorn an academic story into his preconceived “athletics scandal” narrative. Yet another blow to the NYT‘s credibility (is it in negative territory yet?).

And the blowback has already started…

Auburn should be no more tainted by this than USC was for allowing Matt Leinert to take ballroom dancing as his only class in a ruse to remain football eligible last year.

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