I've taught at a prominent basketball school, so I know how galling it can be to discover that a particular student-athlete should never have been admitted to the university. (Of course, it's even more galling when some of the legit undergrads or professors are just as bad as the worst of the athletes.)

Now I don't mean to condemn a kid who's just plain nervous. After all, these are 18- or 21-year-olds who--mere minutes after working themselves to exhaustion on the court or in the field--find themselves standing in front of a famous sportscaster who's peppering them with a zillion stupid questions while a TV camera broadcasts their answers to millions of people around the world. So if they "um" and "y'know" a little bit, I can understand that and don't mind it too much.

But nothing excuses the level of ineptitude that dannye describes. I remember when a few years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Chapel Hill when a UNC player--I think it was Brian Reese--came on the screen to be interviewed. The entire bar groaned; everyone knew that he was about to embarrass himself and the university as a whole by again revealing that he simply couldn't put together a coherent sentence to save his life.

Fortunately, some players do manage to sound reasonably competent, and dannye's right when he says that Duke is better than most. According to one article I read, Duke's Shane Battier deplores the tendency of players to sound functionally illiterate in post-game interviews, and therefore decided to take a public-speaking course to learn how to present himself in a better light. Now he's a media darling and everyone thinks he's wonderful. It's by no means clear whether Battier is really an intelligent, decent, and modest kid when the cameras are off, but at least he can speak properly and knows when it's a good idea to do so (there are plenty of people out there who couldn't do it if they had to). Now there's a sensible idea; why shouldn't coaches make student athletes--particularly the starters or the media darlings--take public-speaking courses? Obviously, not all of them will turn into brilliant politicians or actors, but I think most of them will benefit at least a little.

Sometimes, though, the corruption goes deeper than that. A few years ago, I was watching George Washington University's basketball team in the NCAA Tournament. During the timeouts, I noticed something strange: Alexander Koul, the team's Eastern European center, never joined the huddle. Each time the team ran over to the sidelines to talk to the coach, Koul would be standing on the edge of the huddle talking to someone else. "What is this?" I thought. "Is Koul just too arrogant to participate in the huddle? Does he think he's in the NBA or something?" A few minutes later, the color commentator revealed the truth:

"For those of you who are wondering, the man in the suit next to Alexander Koul is his translator. He sits on the bench with Koul and in this case is translating Coach Whoever's instructions for him."

"Oh!" I thought, "well, that's all right..."

W H A T ?

A translator? The kid has a translator? What the hell? If this guy can't understand basketball commands in English, how does he handle his lectures? How does this guy write his papers? What, does he write them in Croatian or something and then get the translator to convert them to English? Heck, does Koul write them at all? Why does this kid deserve a translator? Nobody pays for a translator to help the foreign exchange student who's struggling with a teacher who mumbles or speaks too quickly. Nobody pays for a translator for the foreign graduate student who's assigned to teach introductory physics.

As everyone knows, it's money. The universities in question appear to reason as follows:

"If we admit this dum-dum, who can put a ball through a hoop really well, we will lose some of our integrity. But in the process, we will rake in lots and lots of money. We can then use that money for good purposes, like renovating the library or building a student union that doesn't look like a dungeon. So a small moral compromise can lead to great benefits. It's worth it."

I doubt it's possible to stop colleges from admitting underqualified athletes without doing away with college athletics entirely. Still, it's probably worth making a big stink whenever a school looks like it's really letting its standards slide--in other words, by increasing the size of the aforementioned moral compromise. That said, it's hard to know on which statistics we should rely when we're trying to decide whether a college is behaving honorably. Dannye suggests that an honest college will graduate a large percentage of its athletes. Well, maybe; but maybe a school with high graduation rates actually lowered its standards and is graduating a lot of illiterates or incompetents. A lower graduation rate suggests that the university's not lowering the bar, but also implies that it's admitting people it shouldn't. At any rate, I suspect that some unscrupulous colleges will simply alter the standards to produce whatever statistic will placate the NCAA officials.

So it looks like we're stuck listening to semiliterate college graduates, at least for now; I just hope that athletes will at least have the decency and the integrity to try to speak well. Their scholarship is a privilege--one that I wish they wouldn't abuse.