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Posted at 1:58 PM ET, 03/16/2010

Terps Coach Williams: Keep college advising to yourself

By Valerie Strauss

Thank you, Terrapins Coach Gary Williams, for your college and career planning advice.

It certainly is original: Dropping out of college may not be so awful because people sometimes go on to make millions of dollars. Bill Gates for one. Barry Gossett for another. Even Dan Snyder.

Maybe college basketball coaches should stick to coaching basketball and leave the college counseling to people who know what they are talking about.

Williams reacted negatively to an annual study that showed the University of Maryland at College Park has the lowest graduation rate--8 percent--among the 65 teams in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. The next lowest was California, at 20 percent. A few schools, including Brigham Young and Marquette, graduated all their players.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. It uses data on graduation and academic progress rates that the teams and schools report to the NCAA, and compares the academic performance of African-American and white basketball players.

This year’s results look at the classes that entered the schools from 1999 to 2002, and used a six-year graduation rate:

*Eighty-four percent of white and 56 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduate, increasing six percentage points for white basketball student-athletes and by two percentage points for African-American basketball student-athletes compared to last year’s study.”

*Forty-four teams, or 69 percent of the total, graduated at least 50 percent of their basketball student-athletes (up from 63 percent in 2009).

*Thirty-seven teams (58 percent, a 10 percentage point increase from 2009) graduated at least 60 percent, and 29 teams (45 percent, also a 10 percentage point increase from 2009) graduated at least 70 percent.

*Only 12 teams (19 percent, down from 24 percent in 2009) graduated less than 40 percent.

*Among schools in the tournament that hail from the greater Washington D.C. region, Georgetown University had an 82 percent graduation rate; Morgan State University, 42 percent; Old Dominion University, 43 percent; University of Richmond; 85 percent.

Here’s what Williams told my colleague in sports, Steve Yanda:

“Obviously, those years we had players leave early and they’re millionaires now, and they’re coming back to get their degrees, just like other guys have come back and gotten their degrees. Plus we’ve graduated, let’s see, I think it’s 10 out of 12 and most recently of our seniors, we’ll graduate all four of our seniors this year. Our academic support system has completely changed since 1999-2003. That is ancient facts, and you know it.

"See, you’ll never put in there that our four seniors will graduate this year or that we’ve graduated 10 out of our last 12 players. That’s my quote. And our academic support system is completely different than it was ’99 to 2003. You’re talking about eight years ago, seven years ago where things were different.”

Williams makes a legitimate point in saying that the university has come a long way academically since 1999. Indeed it has, and the school has earned a well-deserved fine academic reputation. But even taking into account the years he cites himself--1999 to 2003, most of the athletes in the study would have graduated after 2003.

Then he goes on to rant, I mean, say:

“Plus, we had teams in 2001 and 2002 that won national championships. Terrence Morris left early as a first-round draft choice...Steve Blake, you know what he’s doing. He’s playing for a lot of money. Juan Dixon has made a lot of money during his career, and they both hopefully will come back and get their degrees. Chris Wilcox is a lottery pick, left after his sophomore year. Drew Nicholas did not graduate, but he’s had a very successful year, still playing and making a lot of money."

And this:
"This is wrong, to say that these people aren’t successful. Do you know Barry Gossett never graduated from the University of Maryland? He never graduated, but nobody ever criticizes Barry Gossett because he gives $12 million or whatever for the football team house. Barry’s a good guy. He’s done a lot of great things for the University of Maryland. Dan Snyder dropped out of Maryland after his freshman year. It’s just the way it works. Bill Gates never graduated from Harvard.

"To say people aren’t successful and to imply that we don’t care about academics with our players is completely wrong. Once again, we’ve graduated 10 of our last 12, we have four seniors this year, and they will graduate. I will put that graduation rate for the last five years up against anyone in the country."

Coach Williams. Take a deep breath. If you are graduating most of your players now, that’s great.

But, please, making money is not the only measure of success. Dropping out of college and making billions of dollars, like Bill Gates, is not “the way it works” for anybdy but Bill Gates. Surely some of the players who graduated after getting an education went on to make some big bucks too.

Staying in school, and graduating, and then starting a career would be the best thing for every player on your team. Suggesting otherwise is harmful.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 16, 2010; 1:58 PM ET
Categories:  University of Maryland  | Tags:  NCAA, Terps, University of Maryland  
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He is a coach and his job is to win basketball games. Those guys are there to play basketball. They are not really students, in my opinion. Students have to attend classes, etc. The ballplayers must have hours of practice and road trips. Isn't it hypocritical to require they do both?

Posted by: celestun100 | March 16, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I agree that his idea that it is fine to dropout is flawed, however, I don't blame him for being aggravated. Was he hired to tutor the players or be a coach? Basically the college basketball and football teams are minor league teams for the professionals. Everyone knows this.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 16, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

"Staying in school, and graduating, and then starting a career would be the best thing for every player on your team. Suggesting otherwise is harmful."

You really think that a player should pass up a sure shot at millions of dollars for an education that he can acquire at any point in his life?

For certain men's basketball and football players, college is a vocational school, not a liberal-arts education. Pretending otherwise shows ignorance.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 16, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

To further Lindemann's point, athletes have a short window in which they can physically perform. Are you going to cut that period just to get a degree? What's wrong with going back and getting your degree after your playing days are over?

And let's not even start with the fact that graduation statistics are misleading at best. Let's just say it's easier to get your degree as a student athlete at certain schools than others (didn't Patrick Ewing get his degree even though he couldn't read?). As another example, look at all of the Duke basketball players that have graduated in Coach K's "3 year degree program". How many regular Duke students could complete a degree in 3 years?

Posted by: island1 | March 16, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

For certain men's basketball and football players, college is a vocational school, not a liberal-arts education.

This is true. To be realistic about student-athletes you have to acknowledge that many of these young men are going to college primarily to further develop themselves as basketball players. The not so secret truth about Division I college sports is that they are the minor leagues for pro football and basketball.

I think all colleges should be doing all that they can do to make sure that these young men do graduate. Since players are allowed to leave college early, however, I think that should be taken into account in calculating graduation rates.

Posted by: sanderling5 | March 16, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Years ago, some columnist for the Post recommended that the colleges drop the pretense of "scholar-athlete" and simply hire outstanding players to play ball. Hire them like they do other non-faculty employees--they are expected to perform certain duties (in this case practicing and playing) for a certain number of hours each season and they get paid a certain amount. If any of them want to attend classes at the university, they can have the same tuition discount available to other employees and can schedule their courses in their spare time. The main drawback is that any of them who wanted to take courses would have to do the work instead of the coach arranging a "tutor" who in all too many cases writes the papers for the players.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 16, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

The point of going to college is to be successful, not get a degree. For most of us, its the same thing, but not for top athletes. Gary bristles at this statistic because it implies that he just uses his players and casts them aside when he is done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gary cares deeply about his players and wants them to be successful. Sometimes that means taking the fleeting basketball opportunity while they have the chance. This period of low graduation rates produced some of the most successful people to pass through the B-Ball program. If you count all the players who have been succesful following their B-Ball careers at MD, Gary and the University have a lot to be proud of.

Posted by: terpguy68 | March 16, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I can't even read this woman. Please do the world and yourself a favor Ms. Valerie Strauss, do not ever comment on anything even remotely related to college athletics again. This piece was just embarrassing and this woman is clueless.

Posted by: Barno1 | March 16, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you should learn a thing or two about college athletics before you spew your misinformed bile. Your witless rant really makes you sound like a conceited b**ch (which probably isn't far from the truth).

...and btw, for credibility's sake you may want to find a source other than Yanda's article, since my 5-year-old sister is a better journalist than he is. Although, you're not much of a journalist yourself.

Posted by: TheMarylander | March 17, 2010 2:22 AM | Report abuse

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