Oh, it's college football time again. Let's put the little flags on our car and drive around town with our school colors on. If you're here in Arkansas, you can even put a plastic hog's head on as a hat, which tells everyone who sees you, "Hey, I'm a dork!"

I wrote about this in college sports, but this time I'd like to tell you a little story. (Sit down and cross your legs, like ideath and icicle always do. No hitting in the back, there boys. Sylvar, put your little Florida Gator banner up your as. . . I mean, down.)

I used to teach freshman English at a large SEC school. It had a very famous coach at the time, who had a nickname which was also the name of a big, furry mammal. There was a famous quarterback at the time who might or might not be wearing pantyhose. The mascot of this school had something in common with the GOP, but the team's name had nothing to do with that mascot. The team's name was mentioned in a famous Steely Dan song. But I don't want to actually tell you the name of the school, OK? I think you can understand my reluctance to do that.

I had been teaching freshman English for a couple of years. I was what you might call, a professional student at the time. One year, there were a couple of black fellows in my class. It became obvious that they were friends, and just as obvious that neither one of them could read or write at the college level.

I had already made a decision (justified, I believe) that if you got to college without knowing how to read and write the one language you've used since birth, it was the fault of your crappy public high school, and there was little I could do to help at this point. I mean, you need to know how to read and write English in order to pass any college course, hopefully. At least, you did back then.

I could give you examples of things these two would write, but that would be cruel. Just take my word for it. I would talk to them after class and tell them things like, "You know, maybe college just isn't for you. Have you considered a vocational school where you could learn a trade?" Things like that. I had given both of them about 3 F's apiece and had at least 3 sessions after class with them. They were nice about it.

But one day there came a knock at my office door. A young man came in, closed the door, and asked me if I was the teacher failing the two guys. I said, "Yeah, and I don't see it getting any better."

He leaned over my desk and said something like this: "I'm so-and-so from the Athletic Department. I'm not going to say that Coach (insert mammal nickname here) sent me here, but I'm not going to say he didn't, either. What I am going to say is this: Those two guys either make a C in your class or you don't teach here any longer. And I have already spoken with the Head of your Department, so there's no need to try and take this anywhere outside this room."

It was true. The Dept. Head wouldn't discuss it with me. I had to give these two a C in order to keep my job. Which I did. But it sure did change the whole way I look at college sports.

Sylvar, you think this doesn't go on at Florida? I find it hard to understand how well-educated people such as yourself can condone that. It's an epidemic, has been for way too many years, and something really needs to be done about it.

Of course academic dishonesty in the service of jock worship goes on at the University of Florida, dannye. That's one of the reasons I feel my diploma is nearly worthless. My B.A. in linguistics got me into graduate school to get my M.A. in library "science" (sic), which qualified me to take a sysadmin job at a nonprofit library services agency. But the bachelor's degree I got from UF doesn't mean much because you can get the same thing by taking courses like rocks for jocks and underwater basketweaving.

Having said that, it amuses me in a superior way to watch the football coach get mad and fling the visor from his forehead to the ground in one smooth motion. It keeps me connected to my simian side.

Most days I don't care about the Gators one way or another. I do work with Seminoles, so hearing about my nemesis brings out the school spirit in me. If I worked with Gator fans, I'd probably start wearing the Seminole garnet and gold just to annoy the orange and blue people.

And yet I do get a charge out of yelling at the TV, hooting and whooping and shrieking and displaying my big red baboon ass to the world. It's fun to root for the team, any team, and see them win.

Kathleen Norris' books gave me a sense of confronting the evils of history within her faith as a Roman Catholic. She talks about reciting the Apostles' Creed even though sometimes she doesn't believe the things she's saying, simply because her faith can exist simultaneously with her doubt.

Thus it is with me.

Go Gators!

In Douglas College, it is the athletics department that votes against the Performing Arts fee. They want to be the only student body that adds a cost to the student union component of registration. They can often be found seated in the concourse, wearing sweatpants and corporate labels. They always appear to be in good health and form.

College athletics, however is very much the same experience as theatre. There is training involved, warmup, an element of performance, mental preparation, cues, physicality, and improvisation. I almost chose an elective in athletics in my last year of theatre, but opted instead for political science. I think that I made a good choice.

The interesting thing I find is the whole "shadow class" system that, as best as I can tell, exists and keeps these athletes eligible despite attending classes rarely, if ever.

I'm a computer science major at Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!), so I don't see many athletes in my classes (well, maybe in the occasional history class). I have friends, though, who have classes with random football stars (you'd recognize their names when you heard them on TV), half the women's basketball team, etc. And it is apparent that a bunch of them show up for class only 5 or 6 times a semester, plus tests and exams.

The athletic department tutoring program, though, is huge. Below the basketball court and stands at Cassell Coliseum are five floors worth of offices, most of which are dedicated to academic advisement. I have friends who work for the AD as tutors.

So, the conclusion I draw from this (flawed though it may be... it's just MHO, people) is simple -- essentially, rather than going to class, these guys and girls get most of their undergraduate education taught one-on-one by fellow students who simply took the class a couple semesters before they did.

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