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January 19, 2014

Loran Smith: Bulldogs compete well in academics, too

The view here is that there has never been a greater tradeoff in American history than for an aspiring young person to be given a free education for the playing of a sport.

It all began with football but has spread to all sports, men’s and women’s alike. However, the focal point of the system historically has been football — which has evolved into such a business, becoming bigger by the year, that along the way a lack of emphasis on academics has occurred among athletes.

Let’s be honest. Given the druthers of most young football players, it is a fact that in all too many cases the preferred objective is to come to your campus for three years, become trained for pro ball, and leave at the first opportunity for the NFL. (In men’s basketball, it is even worse: play super for one year, and then strike out for the NBA.)

When the body loses its suppleness and when the cash flow runs dry, what does a useless athlete (and the woods are full of them) do? Often broke with a family (in come cases, families) and no degree, they have no place to turn.

As the headlines have reminded us in the last few years, many college graduates have had difficulty finding jobs, which reminds us that in today’s times the smartest young people who are the most enterprising are the ones who will survive. It is a greater challenge for a broken-down athlete.

Universities are often blamed by critics for not doing more by their athletes, but as Wimp Sanderson, the successful sage of Alabama basketball, when asked how many of his players graduated said, “All them that wants to.”

That certainly reflects a truism. If a kid wants a degree, he or she has to make that a goal and an objective. Many kids are economically disadvantaged and view life in the short term. They want the big bucks immediately without thinking that there will ever be a day when they can’t compete.

The American Football Coaches Association annually honors schools that are distinguished for academic achievement. At a recent luncheon, the AFCA and the Memphis Touchdown Club honored Georgia, Rice, Stanford, and Tulane with its Academic Achievement Award.

Georgia in the same grouping with Rice, Stanford, and Tulane! High cotton indeed!

The award was presented for 100 percent graduation of its freshman class of 2006. Stanford and Rice have been honored previously for this award.

“We are certainly pleased about this recognition,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “You credit the students for their work and focus toward completing degree requirements, you credit the coaches in attracting athletes who want a balanced experience while on campus and you credit our academic staff for its counsel and guidance in working with the student-athletes on a daily basis.

“You can win a lot of awards, but it is difficult to top an award which recognizes the institution of something truly outstanding as graduating its athletes. That is part of our mission.”

Ted White, associate athletic director for academic services, underscored the team effort by players and staff — including Carla Williams, executive associate athletic director, and football head coach Mark Richt — noting Georgia is only the third public institution to win this award since 1989.

“If ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ as Peter Drucker once said, then our university administration, Greg McGarity, Carla Williams and Mark Richt should be commended for their tireless establishing an environment where excellence is the expectation,” White said.

Richt, who accepted the award for the UGA Athletic Association, began by paying tribute to the players for “doing the work,” and “having the commitment” to earn their degrees.

“We have excellent staffing and resources in our Rankin Smith Academic Center, which helps tremendously,” Richt said. “We meet with every player who leaves early for the NFL, encouraging them to continue on a path to graduation. Fortunately many of them do. This is a great day for Georgia.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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