by Kent Sterling
Mary Willingham is a polarizing person in the college athletics world.
Her research shows 60% of the University of North Carolina football and men’s basketball players with whom she worked as an academic advisor read and write at anywhere from a 4th to 8th grade level, and 10% don’t fare quite that well.
UNC wonks believe her research serves an agenda designed to demean athletes. Those who are suspicious of the intentions of coaches making millions to win football and basketball through the efforts of young athletes not yet eligible to play in the NFL or NBA view her as a lonely voice of reason among the din of those who like the system as is.
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Tar Heel administrators and boosters say Willingham’s research is flawed and the results spurious. Other hail Willingham as a hero who is a champion of student-athletes whose physical abilities are being used by the school while being compensated with an education they have difficulty participating in.
Willingham took some time to talk to Chris Hagan and I during today’s “Ahead of the Curve” on 1070 the Fan in Indianapolis, and she presented a compelling case that her interest is in helping those exploited by a system designed to bring millions into FBS universities.
Out on a limb alone, Willingham is being shouted down by many within the academic community at the University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill, but she continues to speak out as an advocate for student-athletes who report for duty at a school with a taxing curriculum like UNC ready only to meet the challenges on the gridiron or hardwood.
Listen to the interview yourself and draw your own conclusions. (Interview player is beneath poll)
Compliments to you and Chris on your missing persons and private investigation skill set.
Friday I was in Puerto Vallarta with a UNC alumni and parent, who assured me Ms. Willingham was not only a crackpot, she’d essentially gone into hiding and could not be found.
Looks like you found her, unless by “hiding” he meant “interviewed on a 50,000 watt station” 12 hours later.
I have to think this is the tip of the iceberg, and UNC is putting a face on an issue effecting 90% of D1. This is a true Academic and leader. Great catch for you guys.
Her data is flawed. She stands to make a lot of money from this.
What is flawed and why? Her cards are on the table, where are yours? I have a feeling you are going to say what amounts to 55% read between 5th and 9th grades, a distinction without a difference.
How is Mary’s data flawed? Have you seen the data and evaluated it, or are you just aping the university’s stance?
How in the hell is she going to make money from it? If it wouldn’t make UNC look like cowards, she would have already been fired, and that would cause a loss of wealth.
You are trying to find a motive other than an empathy for and desire of the success of the people with whom she worked. There isn’t one.
The results of the poll is not surprising, as I feel that anyone which truly respects a university-level education SHOULD feel.
The long-term fraud that’s been going on at UNC has kept many of there ducking and dodging for years. I applaud you taking the time to keep the light shining on the travesty of what’s been going on there. Major kudos! Severe punishment should be handed down from the NCAA. Its’ my hope that the punishment is loud and clear and sends a clear message of deterrence to any program for running things the way UNC has been.
My other thought has been along this line : Have we, as a society, become so enthralled at athletic competition (like the way the Romans loved gladiatorial combat) to look the other way at the cheating, fraud, and shady underbelly of the entire process? Have we also forsaken the student-athletes’ (gladiators) best interests? Gladiators were slaves (by-and-large) and are we simply making student-athletes part of a new-age form of temporary bondage, justified by saying we’re giving them a great education they can rely on in their future? Are we actually doing that??? As a student of history, I draw parallels in describing America to Rome in many ways. This is one of them.
I certainly hope our lust for the thrill of competition stops short of what some might call a heedless destruction of young people’s lives and turns into a genuinely fair process that has their best interests at heart.
There are schools who take a genuine interest in the development of the student-athletes, and values the university’s role in their maturity. There are others that could give a sweet damn. They use the kids’ talents for four or five years, and then spit them into the world. Some make a handsome living, and blow the cash because they have no idea how to handle it. Some aren’t good enough to earn a living as athletes, and founder without an education.
Some live in the middle, having received a decent education. They can migrate into the workforce and hold their own.
My experience is that former student-athletes from universities that encourage academic success are wonderful employees. They are goal oriented, team focused, and manage their time exceptionally well.
My son was a student-athlete at Loyola-Chicago, and he got a great education, degree with a double-major (sports management and finance), and learned a ton about basketball and coaching. He’s in the middle of his first year in law school, and the time he spent as an student-athlete serve him exceptionally well.
I wouldn’t change a thing for him, but there are obviously kids who have neither the ability nor the desire to succeed in the classroom. People fill an 18-year-old’s head with hopes of millions, and the details of Finite Math or Abnormal Psych don’t move the enthusiasm needle anymore – if they ever would have.
The parallels of the USA to the Roman Empire are many and striking. To me, where the modern day gladiators are forced to cross the line is football. They have a very short injury free window to compete and earn, yet the NFL and NCAA conspire to force them into universities, where for many or most, their career ends.