Thursday, October 23, 2014

UNC's Academic Scandal Addresses The Fruit Not The Root

The University of North Carolina completed their investigation regarding student-athletes who were pushed to sham classes over an 18-year period involving over 3,100 students.  The report, released Wednesday, says academic advisers in North Carolina's athletic department colluded with a manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department for student-athletes to take classes to boost their GPAs and keep them eligible in their respective sports.

The classes, in place from 1993 to 2011 as reported by allowed a student to write a paper of at least 10 pages rather than attend lectures or meet with professors. Academic advisor Deborah Crowder, who was not a professor, graded the papers. They typically earned an A or B-plus grade.

According to the report, one former head football coach, John Bunting, admitted to knowing of the paper classes and his successor, Butch Davis, also admitted some knowledge. Current men's basketball coach Roy Williams is steadfast that he did not know.

This all came to light when former UNC basketball star Rashad McCants revealed to told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in June that tutors wrote his term papers, he rarely went to class for about half his time at UNC, and he remained able to play largely because he took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible.  McCants made the dean’s list in the spring of 2005.  The same year he was part of a National Championship team at UNC.

I’m an avid sports fan, especially college sports.  My late father was a high school teacher and coach, university administrator and athletic director.  My family on both sides is full of current and former educators and coaches.  Many friends/classmates participated in college sports, graduated, and have gone on to have careers in a variety of fields and own their own businesses.  The revelations from the UNC investigation stimulated many thoughts on a personal level.

There is enough blame to go around with the revelations at UNC.  What is not discussed enough is why academic counselors and student-athletes would go the route that UNC did to help students stay eligible.  Unfortunately many student-athletes education K-12 did not prepare them adequately for higher education at an institution such as University of North Carolina.

UNC academic adviser Mary Willingham, who questioned the literacy level of Tar Heels athletes and said UNC, had committed academic misconduct before leaving the job in 2010.   Universities are not held accountable enough for pushing student-athletes toward majors that have a lighter workload and don’t develop skills that will be marketable when they pursue employment after graduation.  Some universities Liberal Arts degrees are a fancy way to say General Studies. 

This story made me reflect on a conversation my late father had with me in the car over 16 years ago when he was the athletic director at his alma mater Grambling State University.  To paraphrase, he admitted that the NCAA has antiquated rules and are making millions of dollars from basketball and football.  A student-athlete cannot change the rules while they are in school, what they can do is maximize the platform that it gives them.

Student-athletes are first in line to register for classes and schedules.  Have unlimited access to academic tutoring and support.  Travel and meet people from all walks of life.  Instead of focusing on what the university or NCAA is getting out of the deal, focus on what you can control and maximize that opportunity and leave school debt free and receive a quality education.

I am a proponent of student-athletes getting compensation, especially when it pertains to their likeness.  That is another issue.  The education they receive is independent of any additional money.  Another point my father made was that in many instances parents get caught up in the hype.  They do not push their child to focus on education or they were not fortunate enough to receive a quality education during their formative years.  In both instances it creates a quandary with attempting to keep the student-athletes eligible.

I’ve stated many times before that sports are a microcosm of society.  In August 2012 The Washington Post op-ed from Darryl Robinson, who was a freshman at Georgetown University and not an athlete addressed the difficult transition from high school to college academically.  He attended some of Washington, DC’s best schools and still was unprepared for academic rigors of Georgetown. 

Robinson stated, “But after arriving on campus before the school year, with a full scholarship, I quickly felt unprepared and outmatched — and it’s taken an entire year of playing catch-up in the classroom to feel like I belong. I know that ultimately I’m responsible for my education, but I can’t help blaming the schools and teachers I had in my early years for my struggles today.”

Robinson worked everyday to improve.  He went to tutoring twice a week, and routinely attended his professors’ office hours. He was able to express any frustrations and the professors could understand that he valued his education.

Darryl Robinson is like many student-athletes that step onto a college campus and face challenges adapting to the academic challenges whether their high schools prepared them or not.  Some, like Robinson push through the initial struggles to have academic success; others take short cuts as over 3,100 student-athletes did at UNC.

There is enough blame to go around.  How about education reform so every high school student is not in the position Darryl Robinson was in when he enrolled at Georgetown.  Parents need to be held accountable for getting caught in the hype machine of thinking their child will not need an education and will make millions of dollars as a professional athlete. 

Academic counselors and advisors not addressing the root of the problem and just want to keep a player eligible so they will push them toward courses and majors that will not help them later in life.   Finally, the student-athletes, even though they are young (18-23) there is some accountability on their part.  They agreed to choose this route, but the reason it gets to that point is because adults failed them on many levels before they stepped on a college campus.

UNC will be made the poster child for this issue, they are not alone.  My hope is that it will begin a conversation and change for all parties involved in a student-athletes life.

Monday, October 6, 2014

It Has Nothing To Do With This

Establishing a consistent routine in the effort to be “healthy” can become challenging.  Finding work/life balance tends to create excuses such as I don’t have time.  I don’t feel like it.  I don’t know how.  I can’t do that.  It is too hard.  I’ll just accept the way I am.

These reasons are not enough to stop you.  What tends to happen is that people get into their normal routine and find it difficult to include exercise and change their eating habits.  When I hear those excuses there are two points I make to people, you plan everything else, you need to plan how you take care of yourself.

Individuals with clinical depression tend to be less active than healthy average adults. Therefore, from a general health perspective, physical activity should be encouraged.  Studies have shown that acute exercise bouts (single sessions) as well as chronic exercise training programs (over a period of time) have a positive effect on those with clinical depression. 

The Mayo Clinic reported that physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.   Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All this can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.

Society is more health conscious than ever.  There are numerous exercise facilities, infomercials, professionals, and plans at your disposal.   But poor choices are still an option.  Junk food is still in the grocery store.  Your favorite fast food restaurant is still in business and your bed or couch is an option instead of the gym.

With all of the access to better choices it still comes down to making a decision to wanting better.  If your schedule is busy are you doing push-ups, sit-ups, and squats at home until you can get back to gym?   There have been times when I have had conversations with clients showing them when they have time in their schedule to exercise when they think it is not there.  How they can prepare a healthy meal in a short period of time.  How to meal prep so proper food choices are accessible instead of going to the vending machine.

Stop letting excuses and feelings get in your way.  If you have doubts consult with a professional on how a healthy lifestyle can fit into your schedule and budget.  It can be done!  Instead of letting feelings and emotions get in the way of being healthy use a healthy lifestyle to assist you to deal with the trials of life that we all go through.   Don’t let anything get in your way!

Jamaal Piper
Health and Wellness Consultant/Personal Trainer

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 Redskins and NFL First Quarter Review

Redskins and NFC East

Week Four of the NFL season is complete and the Washington Redskins are 1-3.   I can’t say that I am surprised.  I really did not have high expectations this season coming off a 3-13 campaign.  I expected the team to be more competitive than last season and was hopeful Robert Griffin III could put 2013 behind him.  After playing a subpar game in Week 1, he looked impressive early in Week 2 vs. Jacksonville before going down with a dislocated ankle.

Kirk Cousins filled in admirably for the remainder of the game for the ‘Skins lone win and played well in a close loss to Philadelphia the following week.  Then the second half on Thursday night vs. NY Giants happened, four interceptions.

I mentioned in my preseason blog there has been intrigue about how good a quarterback Kirk Cousins will be.  Fans and media can be prisoners of the moment and praise him as the franchise quarterback and ready to move on from RGIII and the next moment question if he is just a backup with a couple of good performances because of his struggles against the Giants.  My take is the jury is still out.  We have seen highs and lows in the three games he has appeared in this season. 

There are five games remaining until the bye week.  That is when RGII could be ready to return from his injury.  Seven starts should be enough to evaluate whether Cousins is a quarterback to consider moving forward with or not.  Let’s wait and judge the entire body of work…and we may see enough before then.   For argument’s sake let’s say he plays poorly and or is inconsistent.  ‘Skins fans should still be very concerned about the future of the position.

Griffin has not demonstrated that he can perform at a high level over a consistent period of time.  I have put 2012 behind me.  That was lightning in a bottle.  The read option and play action from that formation caught defenses off guard.  Other teams around the league with mobile quarterbacks were copying what Washington was doing.  In 2013 those same defenses caught up.  Griffin coming off knee surgery would have to beat teams from the pocket, read defenses better, and use his legs only when necessary.  In addition his offseason development was impacted rehabilitating and he returned in 2013 too early without appearing in a preseason game.

In 2013 Griffin started 13 games going 3-10 and did not look like the same quarterback in 2012.  Cousins could turn into the next great backup filling in for a starter and have a great career such as Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Kurt Warner or he could be the next Kevin Kolb, Rob Johnson, or Matt Flynn who filled in for a short period and had success, then when given the job full time struggled.  With the investment made in Griffin the team will most likely move on with him if Cousins does not perform well.

Besides the quarterback position the defense did not perform as well in Week 4 as it did in the previous three weeks.  Eli Manning looked like he was playing catch in the backyard during the Giants game moving down the field with ease.   Cornerback DeAngelo Hall is out for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon and was missed vs. NY Giants.

The Philadelphia Eagles still appear to be the class of the NFC East even though the Dallas Cowboys and NY Giants have played well the last two weeks.  Philadelphia’s offensive line has struggled with injuries and suspensions, but they are still in first place in the division with a 3-1 record.

The Eagles have not played the Cowboys or Giants yet.   The schedule will be challenging for all of the NFC East teams with the NFC West teams on their schedule.  The Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals all look very formidable.  I still see the NFC East only sending one team to the playoffs.

Rest of the League

Speaking of the Seattle Seahawks they still appear to be the team to beat in the NFC.  The NFC North should be very interesting because the gap between the top three teams Detroit, Green Bay, and Chicago seems to very small.  Minnesota has turn the reigns over to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who played well in beating Atlanta in his first start and should not be looked over.

The Denver Broncos led by Peyton Manning look like they will be right back in the mix to return to the Super Bowl.  The San Diego Chargers are picking up from the momentum from last season including beating Seattle at home this season.   Philip Rivers is playing at a MVP level.

Will the New England Patriots be relevant?  I don’t think so.  Tom Brady can only do so much.  It is amazing what he has accomplished in his career playing with only one Hall of Fame caliber receiver in his career in Randy Moss from 2007-10.  Their defense is not as strong as years past.  They still will probably win the division because the AFC East is mediocre.

Buffalo has benched the struggling EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton, Miami is inconsistent, and the Jets do not seem formidable.  The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals are leading the AFC South and North respectively as expected.  I am interested to see how the AFC North plays out.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh could be battling for one playoff spot if the Bengals win the division.  The Cleveland Browns have been competitive in every game as Brian Hoyer holds off Johnny Football with his play.

The NFL is a week-to-week league.  Opinions can drastically change just after one good or bad performance by a player and/or team.  After the first four weeks Denver, Philadelphia, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati are living up to expectations.  The trendy pick of the Arizona Cardinals are 3-0 even with their starting quarterback Carson Palmer missing two games.  The next four weeks should give us more answers.