Georgia Tech appears to be recruiting a stellar class of football talent this year but spend two minutes monitoring various blogs and one will see some very acrimonious comments about the recruiting abilities of Coach Paul Johnson. These comments no doubt cause concern among some fans and may even scare off some future potential players. But these comments almost to the letter fully miss the point of athletic scholarships.
Can you say education?
Perhaps a more germane question should be directed to those football players who attend certain well known football factories, "Can you spell education?" It no longer should be debated that some schools offer easy courses and some schools offer scholarships to players who probably are not college material. Georgia Tech could not do that even if it wanted to. Though players no longer have to attend class on Saturday prior to the big game as they did in Bill Curry's day, there are still no easy majors at Georgia Tech.
A Wall Street Journal article "Why Football Players Don't Speak Spanish" charted the majors chosen by starting football players across the country. The clever title comes from the fact that only one football player in the entire country chose to major in a foreign language. There were only 20 Engineering Majors and only 2 Math Majors. Close to 200 starters majored in General Studies or Liberal Arts. Something like 118 majored in sports related majors.
If around 300 starting BCS players are involved in the so-called "softer" subjects this observation should not be construed as a denigration of their majors nor of their life's calling. The world needs liberal arts. Not only can we not all be scientists, it would be a really dull place if we were.
Those who want Tech to recruit the next Cam Newton should keep in mind several things. Cam's reported academic problems in the past indicate he was not Tech material. Currently most football players tend to prefer the "softer majors." Educators generally agree that the three most difficult subjects in college are engineering, math and physics. The pool of athletes that can handle upper level math is quite small. Though there is nothing to prevent a Cam Newton type player from showing up in that pool, Tech is not the only school fishing.
If one were to name the most rigorous schools in the country that play big time football four that come to mind would be Stanford, Army, Navy and the Air Force Academy. These are also among the more difficult schools to get into. Any success that they have on the football field is in part due to the fact that they recruit nationally. In other words their pool is a little bigger than most schools. Other schools that come to mind that have lofty expectations for their students include Cal Berkeley, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. To be sure there is a little bit of apples and oranges in comparing these last schools but what they have in common are high SAT scores and top of the class standing for their entering freshman. Each for different reasons presents formidable hurdles to the potential student athlete.
Tech recruits some nationally (in my opinion they should do more) but for the most part they work the same vineyards as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, Georgia and the like. In case anyone doesn't remember, the area that Tech recruits has some of the worst high schools in the nation. The state of Georgia ranks 46th in SAT scores, near the bottom in math and is almost dead last in graduation rates. This ranking is all the more alarming when one realizes, as President Obama pointed out in his recent State of The Union address, that U.S. education as a whole has slipped to 9th place in the world.
In light of these facts Tech's latest class is all the more remarkable. These students embody the Athenian ideal of physical fitness and intellectual rigor. They will not only dazzle us on the playing field they also will likely not flunk out. Nor are they the type that would attract NCAA investigations.
Here is what we expect from them as a group. They will be exposed to a cosmopolitan Atlanta atmosphere and without half trying will baste in a rich sauce of culture and experiences. Though many will worry about staying academically eligible and thus choose a Management Major over a Physics Major, here too we will take satisfaction in knowing that they still are being stretched further than the vast majority of their competitors at other schools. And if things play out the way they do for the vast number of former Tech athletes, they will be well prepared for life, whether in sports, business or as community leaders.