Tuesday, August 3, 2010

N.C.A.A.: No Care for Athletes Absolutely


At Laney College, the football program has expanded from sixty players to one hundred players in the past few years, a time that has seen major cutbacks in classes across the board and an act of blatant theft by management against the part-time professors by taking $400,000 owed to about 600 workers and using it for Odin knows what.

It's galling to see this increase in funding for sports when budgets are getting slashed for teachers and facilities, but that is not the worst of it. In the past, only student-athletes who wanted to go to certain schools were forced to pass Introduction to Statistics. For example, all the state schools in California required that, both in the state schools, where Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State have programs that have sent a few players to the NFL, and the University of California schools, where Cal and UCLA have several alum who turned pro and UC Davis is starting to see some success along those lines. What this meant for me in the past was I had some students from the football team in my classes and most of them were serious about passing the class, as well as having a reasonable shot at passing. Those whose math skills weren't strong enough did not have to attend.

In steps the NCAA. They now require statistics for all student-athletes. This summer, this meant fourteen football players trying to pass a six week summer session course. The six week courses cram the same amount of material designed to be taught in a full semester into classes taught four days a week. It requires commitment and punishes people who have weak math skills. There's very little time for extra studying to catch up. The vast majority of the football players weren't ready and the attendance record was very bad. Worse than that, many were caught cheating on tests and got zero when that happened.

I don't think of statistics as a "hard" class. Technology has changed the nature of the course completely in the last fifty years. Back in the sixties, John Tukey came up with some very clever workarounds to avoid having to find the standard deviation for sets of data with many entries. Over the past few years, I practiced several times taking the average and standard deviation of sets of 40 numbers, and without a calculator or spreadsheet it took me between an hour and an hour and a half to find those values, and I sometimes got the answers wrong. With a cheap calculator, it takes less than five minutes and maybe a minute to double check that I input the numbers correctly. If the numbers come from some website, it takes less than a minute with Excel and I don't have to double check for entry mistakes.

Even with technology making the class easier, the class takes someone to be fluent with numbers and a lot of students leave high school without that fluency. Many people who whine about our educational system are equally incompetent with numbers, but that is equal parts problems with education in the past and people long out of school letting their brains go to seed.

I don't expect the NCAA to rescind this silly policy, and Laney gets publicity by having a good football team, so both the factors helping to make my life a living hell probably aren't going away. I just wanted to vent a little bit.

Good thing I have a blog.

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