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In the dog house

Sports | The national champion Huskies have no excuse for rating among the worst academic performers

Issue: "Tour d'America," June 18, 2011

In April, the University of Connecticut men's basketball team captured its third national championship in 13 years, further solidifying coach Jim Calhoun's place among the greatest ever in his field. But one month later, the Huskies head man entered the dog house, forfeiting $187,500 in salary bonuses when his team failed to meet the NCAA's minimum academic standard. UConn had scored next to last for all programs within the big three college sports of football and men's and women's basketball.

The Huskies rolling score of 893 for the previous four years fell well below the Academic Progress Rate minimum of 925, a number that effectively requires a team to graduate 50 percent of its athletes. In addition to Calhoun's fine, the Huskies will lose two scholarships in men's basketball for next year.

UConn has no excuse. A school of its size has more than enough resources to provide special tutoring and academic assistance to any student-athletes falling behind. Not so schools from poorer leagues like the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where the NCAA handed out half of its harshest penalties. The football programs of Jackson State and Southern, both of the SWAC, cannot participate in post-season play next year due to low APR scores, so too the men's basketball programs of Southern and Grambling.

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That lopsided allocation of penalties to poorer schools raises questions as to whether the NCAA should require the same graduation rates across the board. Schools serving more impoverished communities often maintain lower academic standards for admission and are thus likely to generate a lower percentage of graduates, independent from athletic considerations. Is it fair to expect such schools to compete academically with the likes of UConn? Even without his bonuses, Calhoun makes more than $2.5 million a year. Southern basketball coach Roman Banks makes $115,000.

Catcher crashes

The NFL took heat last year when it began delivering stiff fines for helmet-to-helmet shots on what it termed "defenseless players." Some critics questioned whether football maintained its same appeal without the reckless abandon of its most violent hits. Nevertheless, the league held its ground in the interest of protecting its players.

Will Major League Baseball do the same? Though far less common than in football, the violent hit on a defenseless player remains sacrosanct under the rules of professional baseball. Nowhere was that more evident than May 25 in San Francisco, when Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins bulled over Giants catcher Buster Posey. The blow sent Posey twisting back and to the left, fracturing his leg and severely straining ligaments in his ankle. In an instant, one of the game's best young players was all but done for the season.

The play has sparked a rash of conversation over whether the home plate collision is good for baseball. Posey's agent, Jeff Berry, says no and is pushing both the league and players union to consider protecting catchers: "You leave players way too vulnerable," he said. "It's stupid. I don't know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy is too exposed."

Home plate collisions have generated a number of recent injuries, including a concussion for Angels catcher Bobby Wilson last year and a severely sprained ankle for Astros catcher Humberto Quintero just two days after the Posey episode. Still, many players prefer baseball be left unchanged. Red Sox backstop Jason Varitek, who has taken more than his share of hits behind the plate, defends collisions as "part of the game."


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