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Show 6 transcript: Tennessee - Athletics vs. Academics

OUTSIDE THE LINES - Tensions Between Academic Integrity and Athletics at University of Tennessee

Bob Ley, Host - May 7th, 2000. Football powerhouse Tennessee.

Game Analyst - It's football time in Tennessee.

Ley - Year after year, a top-rank team, but not when it comes to grades or graduation rates. And one person says she knows why.

Linda Bensel-Meyers, University of Tennessee, English Professor - They are teaching some but they're above the law. I mean, the type of system - the type of education they're getting is really not an education and it's not a typical college environment.

Ley - Today on OUTSIDE THE LINES, the tension between academic integrity and on-field dominance, the struggle in Tennessee between hearts and minds.

Announcer - Joining us from ESPN studios, Bob Ley.

Ley - So often, we view the problems in college sports as extremes. The academic fraud scandal at the University of Minnesota being investigated not simply by the NCAA but by a federal grand jury. A former AAU coach in jail awaiting federal trial accused of paying five-star high school players money alleged to be part of the nearly half-million dollars he was paid by Nike to run a summer team.

The question today is more subtle. The University of Tennessee has built a college football powerhouse second to none, an industry that produces tens of millions of dollars and numerous NFL prospects. Nine were drafted last month. But does Tennessee provide its football players a meaningful and substantive college education?

At the end of these 30 minutes, you may well agree with university officials who say they are educating these athletes and fulfilling the school's mission. News reports last fall charged the Tennessee athletes received improper assistance from tutors, possible plagiarism. The university held four football players out of action for one week while it investigated the charges and found no NCAA violations. The NCAA also found no wrongdoing.

This morning's questions derive not from the NCAA rule book but from the basic integrity that is the cornerstone of any school. Tom Farrey has this report.

Tom Farrey, ESPN Correspondent (voice-over) - She is smaller than the smallest place kicker, slower than the slowest lineman, but no less driven than Tennessee football coach Phillip Fullman (ph). She is English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers and she is determined to change the way Tennessee educates its athletes.

Bensel-Meyers - I think people can judge when they clearly see the records that there's a consistent system there. And this is not an education. And if the athletes do get a degree, that degree isn't worth very much compared to the degree other students would get.

Farrey- Bensel-Meyers reviewed the academic transcripts of 37 football players. The raw numbers in those records raise a number of questions.

Robert Glenn, University of Tennessee, President-Elect, Faculty Senate - She's raised a lot of important issues and questions of academic integrity in the athletics program on the agenda for the campus.

Farrey - Chief among those issues- grade changes. A faculty committee report released on Monday shows that on average, male and female athletes get twice as many grade changes as other students. The school's top academic official, Provost John Peters (ph), wrote that the disparity is not large enough to warrant concern, but Bensel-Meyers working separately focused on football players.

The results- OUTSIDE THE LINES crunched the numbers on the 24 players who started at least three games on offense or defense last year. The nine players most at risk of losing their eligibility were five times more likely to receive a grade change as all athletes and 10 times more likely to receive a grade change than non-athletes.

Farrey (on-camera) - Do you though, that there are certain professors out there who are more willing to accommodate an athlete because you simply want to?

Doug Dickey, University of Tennessee, Athletic Director - I don't know, I can't answer that. I certainly have never made a call on behalf of an athlete. I don't have any relationship to anybody on campus that says, you know, "Would you do this or that?" And I do not believe anybody on our advising department is doing that.

If athletes go back and talk to people and they want to listen to whatever that story is like they would listen to any other student story about the fact that they had the car wreck or whatever happened to anybody out there, that's that faculty member's duty and responsibility to his academic integrity to make that call.

David Patterson, University of Tennessee, Director, School of Planning - I'm sympathetic to athletes and somebody whose working 40 hours a week trying to go to school.

Farrey (voice-over) - As head of the School of Planning at Tennessee, David Patterson oversees the urban studies program where nine starters on last year's football team were pursuing degrees.

(on-camera) - So it's OK to give athletes special breaks?

Patterson - As an individual professor, I don't want to answer your question and say yes that way because I think that's unfair. As an individual professor - and I think a lot of faculty people would feel this way - we'll go out of our way to help somebody who is struggling to get through school because of financial or other concerns.

Farrey (voice-over)- Many academically marginal football players, however, benefit greatly from flexible faculty. One starter on last year's team failed 40 percent of his classes, including jogging, and received six grade changes during his career. Another starter got 10 grades of incomplete.

According to school policy, grades of I are supposed to be given only under extraordinary circumstances, but they're valuable because they give the student up to a year to finish the class work and don't count against his GPA.

Dickey- We have, I think, a few more extenuating circumstances because of practice hours, injuries and so forth.

Palmira Brummett, University of Tennessee, History Professor - I don't accept that. The entire student body has injuries, has automobile accidents. They certainly don't tend to have a practice schedule as many of the athletes do, but many of them are working considerable hours while they're trying to get their education.

Farrey - The disparity is significant. OUTSIDE THE LINES analyzed Bensel-Meyers data and found that starters with the nine lowest GPAs were 31 times more likely than a non-athlete to receive an incomplete that turned into a passing grade.

Allen Sack, University Of New Haven, Management Professor - This is a national problem.

Farrey - Allen Sack is a former Notre Dame football player and a current member of a national faculty group that contends faculty are complicit in the academic shortcomings of athletes.

Sack - I myself have been a friendly faculty member. And probably if you talk to some of my past students who have been athletes, they would say that Professor Sack has, in fact, helped out a little bit. I've been wrong. I was very wrong. It is not in the best interest of my students to pass them along. It is not in the best interest of my students to be changing their grades or allowing them to cut as many classes as they like. And in the last year or so, having been involved in these issues, honestly, I think I've become a better teacher, a better professor.

Farrey - At Tennessee, faculty are given a letter each semester identifying athletes taking their course and explaining the athlete will miss class for legitimate reasons.

Brummett - There is a lot of pressure to give leeway to student athletes that other students don't get. And in this regard, I think it's both unfair to the student athletes and unfair to the students who are not student athletes as well.

Farrey - This issue is complicated by the athletic department practice of inviting selected faculty on all-expense-paid trips to football road games.

Brummett - I don't think that anyone who is grading students should be taking gifts of any kind from the athletic department.

Charles Reynolds, University of Tennessee, Chairman, Religious Studies - I think I have enough integrity and I think people know I have enough integrity that I would not be influenced by something as minor as a weekend trip, which is also something of an ordeal.

Farrey (on-camera) - Should your faculty be taking gifts from the athletic department?

Patterson - No. I guess if you want to define that trip as a gift, I guess technically it is. I've not thought of it in that terms. But no, they should not be.

Farrey (voice-over) - A faculty report last year found that 45 players on the 1998 national championship team have less than a 2.0 GPA, just above the NCAA minimum to play ball. But rarely does Tennessee ever lose key players to academics.

Bensel-Meyers - We're very proficient. We're number one on how to just how to handle the athlete, manage the athlete and keep the athlete eligible.

Dickey - I do not feel that that's part of any success pattern we have here of any significance. We will have - You know, I've been at this about 40 years and there's probably one or two people at the end of every year that come down to have in a strange situation of some sort. Some of them make it and some don't.

Farrey (on-camera) - At a university where football dominates, a debate about academic integrity percolates. The question is whether anything will come of it.

For OUTSIDE THE LINES, I'm Tom Farrey.

Ley - Friday, the NCAA notified both Professor Bensel-Meyers and the university's counsel that an investigator will be visiting from the NCAA, visiting the campus on May 23rd.

This morning's edition of the "Nashville Tennesseen" quotes the counsel as saying, quote, "She," Bensel-Meyers, "has academic concerns, maybe legitimate ones but I don't have an opinion on those. All I'm interested in is whether NCAA infractions occurred," end quote.

When we continue, an interview I taped earlier with the president of the University of Tennessee, J. Wade Gilley. And later, I will be joined live by Mississippi state head coach Jackie Sherrill and the former head coach at Alabama and Kentucky, Bill Curry.

Ley - Our topic- academics at a big-time football program, the University of Tennessee. Tom Farrey raised a number of points in his report, and the other day, I addressed several of them with the president of the University of Tennessee, J. Wade Gilley. I asked President Gilley about the report released by English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers, a report in which she claims academic policies are manipulated and academic integrity undermined with a chief objective of keeping players eligible.

J. Wade Gilley, President, University of Tennessee - Well, obviously, we like for our athletes to be eligible academically. They have to be. And I think that we've done a great job at that. But as far as her report is concerned, I've looked at it and I can't see how the data that she has can lead to her conclusions.

For example, in our student athlete program, out of 550 student athletes, 78 percent of those who complete their eligibility graduate. And that's a pretty good figure in most any state university.

Ley (on camera )- What do you make of the fact, though, that the faculty said it voted unanimously to continue looking into some of the issues she raised?

Gilley - Well, she threw out a lot of charges. It was the end of the year. The Faculty Senate had a number of very important issue late last Monday evening. And I think the most prudent thing to do is to refer these new charges back to the committee.

Ley - Well, let me ask you about urban studies. You've got 25,000 students there in Knoxville.

Gilley- Right.

Ley - Only 30 out of 25,000, 30 students are majoring in urban studies. Nine of those 30 starters or nine of those 30 majors were starters on last year's football team.

Gilley - I don't know if that's true. I don't know where you would - how you would conclude that because...

Ley - Well, because it's the data from Professor Bensel-Meyers' report. Nine starters are majoring in urban studies.

Gilley - Well, see, we don't know that those are actually transcripts from those students. She's refused to give the names. So I have no idea whether those are accurate transcripts or not because she hasn't revealed the names of the persons to the university and she's been asked to do that. So we have no idea. Those could be anybody's transcript as far as I know.

Ley - Would you be worried if those numbers were accurate, that nine of the 30 out of 25,000 are starting football players? Would that suggest that football players are being guided into that particular major?

Gilley - I don't - We have 130 football players. If nine are urban studies majors, I don't know that that's unusual. But I do think that we ought to leave that to the Faculty Senate Committee to review and make recommendations on.

Ley - Well, the data in Professor Bensel-Meyers report suggests that the nine starters who she says in her report are majoring in urban studies were admitted into the major without completing the prerequisite work. Would that worry you?

Gilley - Well, as I said, I don't know anything about her report. I've looked at it and I can't look at the data myself. I'm only an engineer but I can't look at the data and draw the conclusions that she drew.

Ley - Nearly half the As that were garnered by the starting football players on last year's team in three and four credit courses - and we're talking about over 40 grades of As - came in just five courses. Does that strike you as an odd distribution of grades? The courses were Military Science I and II, directed field work, supervised research, English - just five courses provided over half the As or just about half the As for all the starters.

Ley - Well, as again I said, I don't know that those numbers are accurate. We need to receive the information on the specific students from the people who are making the charges so that our Provost office and the Faculty Senate Committee can review those and validate them. Those are charges that have been made but have not been - we have not been provided with sufficient information to validate are they real or not. And I have no idea.

Ley - If they are real, if you run the transcripts and have the actual documents in your hand and those numbers that I have represented to you are accurate, would you be worried?

Gilley - What I would want to do is for the Faculty Senate, through its committee structure, to make specific recommendations to us on policy changes if there are things to be concerned about. And I'm perfectly willing to let the Faculty Senate review this and make recommendations. I think the Faculty Senate Committee, the Faculty Senate itself has been very responsible in this regard and I'm willing to wait for their judgment on this.

Ley - The latest NCAA graduation figures breaks everything down by gender, sport and also by race. There's a 40-point spread between the graduation rate of white and black athletes. Are you worried about that at your school?

Gilley - That's across the country, I think. I think that's true across the country.

Ley - Are you particularly worried, though, about that number at your school?

Gilley - I think all of us in American education have to be worried about the graduation rates of all of our students, and particularly any specific group of students that have a below-average graduation rate. We need to be concerned about that. We need to address it. And if that's true at the University of Tennessee, we will address it.

Ley - J. Wade Gilley, the president of the University of Tennessee. We will continue on this topic in a moment and I will be joined live by former Alabama and Kentucky head coach Bill Curry, and Mississippi State head coach Jackie Sherrill on OUTSIDE THE LINES.

Ley - And we welcome two men synonymous with college football. Joining us from Starkville, Mississippi where he is preparing for his 10th season as the head coach of Mississippi State, Jackie Sherrill, and from Atlanta, Bill Curry, who has coached at among other schools, Alabama and Kentucky. He is also a game analyst for ESPN.

Gentlemen, you've heard the report today by Tom Farrey, my conversation with the president of the school.

Jackie, what is your reaction to what you've just heard?

Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State University Head Football Coach - Well, the most important thing, I think, all of us should understand is none of us that are sitting here talking today really have firsthand knowledge. So, you know, I can't talk about Tennessee. What we're going to really talk or I'll talk is generality. But the most important thing for our viewers to understand and out in the country is we can't legislate academic integrity and we can't legislate equality academically. Every school in the nation is different and every university has different programs, every university has different admission policies.

The most important factor in every institution and the job of that college president - and you know, when we talk about integrity, when we talk about morality or we talk about, you know, the things that it takes to be a college student, can that student that you allow to come into that institution, can he compete at that institution academics.

Ley - So you're basically putting it on the college president to take responsibility for who's at his school?

Sherrill - No question. I mean...

Ley - OK, let me just quickly go to Bill and get his reaction then. Bill?

Bill Curry, ESPN College Football Analyst - The best scenario I've ever seen existed at Georgia Tech both when I was a student there and when I was the head coach there. And it involved the president, the athletic director and the head coach all taking direct responsibility. That means the program, the priorities are set in the very beginning. Everybody understands, including the parents and including the student athletes.

If you're going to say the coach is not really responsible for graduation rate - and I don't think that's what Jackie was insinuating but people will say that...

Sherrill - No.

Curry - then you need to look the parents in the eye and say, "Look, I'm the football coach. I'm here to recruit but I don't have anything to do with whether or not your son graduates." When those three set the priorities, then the student athlete understands.

I decided not to go to a chemistry class when I was a freshman at Georgia Tech because I did not understand what the doctor was talking about, but my coach, Bobby Dodd (ph), whom ironically was from Tennessee, was such a fanatic about going to class, I was up the next Wednesday morning running up and down the stands in Grant Field until I threw up. And I decided chemistry at 8-00 was a marvelous thing to do. And I graduated from college because of my football coach.

Ley - But gentlemen, don't you think that some people will take a look at the story and the cynics will say, "My god, aren't you nave, ESPN. Easy courses, the allegations of easy and complicit faculty" - these are the allegations made in the professor's report - "doesn't everybody do it?"

Curry - No, everybody does not do it.

Sherrill - No.

Curry - That's the common copout for everybody that cheats on their income tax or anything else. There are too many programs that are doing it right. It's being done right at Stanford. It's being done right at Penn State. It's being done right at Virginia, at Rice. There are too many schools with very good graduation rates. Boston College is another one. And they win football games.

You don't - you certainly don't have to sacrifice winning to do things properly by the rules and to graduate your student athlete. Right there at Tennessee, Pat Summit (ph), has graduated every single woman basketball player that has completed the four years under her. That's a hundred percent. That's pretty good. That's better than the 34 percent.

Ley - But Jackie - let me ask Jackie this question. Is a degree the sole way to judge how good an education is if indeed there are questions about the courses?

Sherrill - Not at all. And I don't think anybody says that. That's not even what the academic side of the university is saying. But, you know, where we get our credibility, it's not because of football coaches, it's not because - We get our credibility because of those students going to those classes and there in the faculty that has those student athletes.

For instance, you know, when I was at Pittsburgh, Jeff Delaney (ph) that was now a medical doctor, he gave us a lot of credibility. Kip Corrington (ph) at Texas A&M was the number one student in the college of arts and science in the whole school.

Ley - Jackie, do you believe that academic counseling should be inside the athletic department? That's the way it is in a number of schools. That happens to be the way it is in Tennessee. Is there an inherent conflict there since the eligibility is a core issue?

Sherrill - You can say yes or no, you can debate about that, but I think that if the university works with the academics and the academic people that have the relationship with the professors on campus. But the point I want to make to you is the NCAA did standards.

You know, in 1978 in a CFA meeting, we proposed and I pushed it through with the help of other people what Prop 48 that we do have standards. And the standards that we have set or the NCAA has set has increased the quality or increased the qualifications of students going to college. I'm talking about athletes. But you can't legislate. Let me take three institutions.

Ley - Let me just jump in quickly, though, jump ahead to Bill for just a moment, if I could and ask quickly, Bill, can we have a situation, can there be academic fraud without NCAA violations?

Curry - I'm delighted to learn that Jackie did Proposition 48. That's the first time I heard that. But there can be academic fraud, yes, without NCAA violations, but it's far more difficult than it used to be. And I'm going to say this again and again. An awful lot of people are doing it properly out there.

What can happen is that there has to be complicity in the administration for that to happen. And I don't think that's happening in many places. And I think Jackie's correct when he says we have to be careful about the Tennessee situation because that's being litigated within the confines of the university system. And they'll work that out and they must.

But satisfactory progress rules means that you have to declare a major, you have to be taking courses toward those majors. That's something that can be checked and verified.

Ley - That's one of the issues Tennessee will take a look at. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Bill Curry and Jackie Sherrill, we appreciate you taking the time to be with us this morning.

And in a moment, we will have more and tell you exactly how you can learn more about this topic online at on OUTSIDE THE LINES.

Announcer - OUTSIDE THE LINES is online at Type the keyword OTLL weekly. There you'll find video clips, a library of program transcripts and links to more from Tom Farrey on this topic, "Academics and the Tennessee Football Program," all at

Ley - This Friday evening, OUTSIDE THE LINES chronicles the days and weeks leading to Darius Miles' (ph) decision to jump right from high school to the pros.

Darius Miles - I can dribble, I can shoot, block sets, steal the ball, you know, anything you need me to do. To me, I'm a coach's dream.

Ley- Friday, he turned pro, Saturday he went to his high school senior prom, this Friday.

OUTSIDE THE LINES primetime presents "Coming of Age," one player's decision to make the increasingly popular jump directly to the NBA out of high school. 7-00 p.m. Eastern, Friday after SPORTSCENTER.

And if you missed any portion of this morning's program, it will be reairing in two and a half hours at 1-30 p.m. Eastern over on ESPN2.

I'm Bob Ley. For all of us at OUTSIDE THE LINES, thanks for being with us this week.

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video's Tom Farrey reports from Knoxville.
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 Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill and Bill Curry join ESPN's Bob Ley in discussion.
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 ESPN's Bob Ley interviews University of Tennessee President J. Wade Gilley.
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