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Concerns arise after Big 12 study

Big 12 Conference

POSTED June 16, 2012 10:12 p.m.

LAWRENCE (AP) — An analysis of Big 12 athletics finds its commonplace for athletes to cluster in majors, which isn’t against NCAA regulations but has generated concerns among some experts.
The Lawrence Journal-World reported that the most popular majors for University of Kansas men’s basketball players are communications, African and African-American studies and American studies. Sixty-one percent of the 43 players who’ve indicated a major in media guides majored in one of the three from 2004 to 2012.
Often only a small percentage of non-athletes majored in programs popular among athletes. Take Texas A&M, where 37 percent of men’s basketball and football players majored in agricultural leadership and development, compared to less than 1 percent of non-athletes.
The focus is simply to keep the big-time athletic prospects on the field, said Jason Lanter, a psychology professor and president of the Drake Group, which helps “faculty and staff defend academic integrity in the face of the burgeoning college sport industry.”
“The coach says, ‘I don’t care, make them eligible,’ “ said Lanter of some coaches’ attitudes toward academics.
The result is that players spend their time on campus, and maybe get a degree, but it’s in a field that doesn’t interest them and presents little future opportunity, Lanter said.
Peter Finley, a professor at Nova Southeastern University, who has conducted studies of clustering, said athletes “become a pawn,” Finley said. “They’re there to play the sport and major in eligibility.”
For certain popular majors in college athletics, “sometimes you’ll find that students in those programs can have lower GPAs, take fewer high-level courses and ‘create’ their own program, which allows them to target more professors who are ‘friends of the program,’ “ Finley said.
Paul Buskirk, an associate athletics director at the University of Kansas, defended the advising process and discounted the idea that some of the popular majors for athletes contain “easy” classes.
“There is no degree on this campus that’s a cake walk,” he said, emphasizing that the majority of courses a player takes in his or her college career are not from one major. “There’s no place to hide.”
Buskirk said the department monitors clustering for potential problems but hasn’t found any issues.
“It’s an honest program,” he said.
Texas A&M, which is joining the Southeastern Conference next school year, declined to discuss with the Lawrence Journal-World the high numbers of athletes majoring in agricultural leadership and development. Instead, the school released a written statement.
“There are a number of agriculture majors who are doing well in their respective fields and careers. The variety of these degree paths provide many options for our students, as well as our student athletes,” said John Thornton, interim director of athletics, in the statement. “It is not the specific degree that makes the student, but it is what the student does with that degree.”

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