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University of Alabama beat writer: The Birmingham News

Discussion in 'Journalism Jobs' started by Rockbottom, Jul 7, 2006.

  1. spinning27

    spinning27 New Member

    OK, here are several key grafs from the story:

    ]....So Professor Gundlach looked at the player’s academic files, which led him to the discovery that many Auburn athletes were receiving high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work.

    Eighteen members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, took a combined 97 hours of the courses during their careers. The offerings, known as directed-reading courses, resemble independent study and include core subjects like statistics, theory and methods, which normally require class instruction...

    Keeping players academically eligible is a task that has bedeviled many institutions. Colleges have long offered easy courses, and athletes are by no means the only ones who sign up. Under new National Collegiate Athletic Association rules, however, colleges whose athletes do not meet academic standards can be penalized, sometimes by having the number of their athletic scholarships reduced. That change is intended to help ensure that student athletes receive a legitimate education. But the change can also increase the pressure on colleges to find ways to keep athletes from failing.

    In Auburn’s case, the sociology department and one of its leaders became just the ticket.

    Professor Petee’s directed-reading classes, which nonathletes took as well, helped athletes in several sports improve their grade-point averages and preserve their athletic eligibility. A number of athletes took more than one class with Professor Petee over their careers: one athlete took seven such courses, three athletes took six, five took five and eight took four, according to records compiled by Professor Gundlach. He also found that more than a quarter of the students in Professor Petee’s directed-reading courses were athletes. (Professor Gundlach could not provide specific names because of student privacy laws.)

    The Auburn football team’s performance in the N.C.A.A.’s new rankings of student athletes’ academic progress surprised many educators on and off campus. The team had the highest ranking of any Division I-A public university among college football’s six major conferences. Over all among Division I-A football programs, Auburn trailed only Stanford, Navy and Boston College, and finished just ahead of Duke.

    It's right there in the first paragraph, by the way, that the head of the department figured out what was going on BY WATCHING AN AUBURN FOOTBALL GAME and seeing the little graphic that comes up on players that lists their major.

    At the end of the day, if the guys covering Auburn didn't read that story in the NYT and say to themselves, "Damn I really wish I would have gotten that," then why are they in the business?

    You can say this story fell into Thamel's lap, and that's partly true. But this is also the kind of stuff that some great college beat writers around the country dig for. To say that this is something a higher education reporter should have been digging for, as opposed to the Auburn football beat guys, is stupid.
  2. Peter LaFleur

    Peter LaFleur Member

    Spinning, you're clueless on this one.

    Gundlach says he found out about the "situation" by watching a football game and seeing that a player was a sociology major. And the only reason he found it odd is because as a sociology professor, he'd never seen the student (or something to that regard). Gundlach also was able to get his hands on students files no reporter can because of gov't law.

    so what you're saying is that every reporter on that Auburn beat is supposed to regularly go to every teacher in every department a football player is majoring in and find out if the players have been going to class? That's pretty ridiculous.
  3. PaseanaARG

    PaseanaARG Guest

    Beat writers in Alabama suck.

    If spinning says so, by golly, must be true.
  4. dog428

    dog428 Active Member

    I'm going to make this my last post on this, because no one else in the world, outside of Gundlach and Petee, give a shit anymore.

    Here's the key to the entire thing: The classes were available to all students at Auburn. Not only that, but far more regular students took these classes. In fact, a larger percentage of just plain ol' Sociology majors took the courses than did athletes who were Sociology majors.

    Nothing was "set up for athletes." So, with that being the case, it changes the story from an athletics story to an academics story. The question being asked here isn't "Why was Auburn handing out bullshit grades to athletes?". It's "Why was Auburn handing out bullshit grades to students, including a small number of athletes?".

    If a sports writer got it, good for him, but that and the fact that football was talked about a whole bunch doesn't make it a sports story. Thamel did good work here. I'm not saying he didn't. I question the decision to focus the entire thing on football when only 18 players took only 97 hours in their careers. (Do the math there. Each class is worth at least two hours, some three hours. That's two, maybe three of these classes for each player over a four-year span.) But I also understand the decision. NYT is a national publication and the only thing at Auburn with national interest is its football team.

    Oh, and by the way, I'm not an Auburn beat writer. I know several of them. All good guys and they all work hard. To suggest otherwise indicates one thing: You're an idiot.
  5. spinning27

    spinning27 New Member

    Whatever. You're missing the point.

    The discussion began with someone claiming that it wasn't a sports story. I argued that clearly it was a sports story, first and foremost because it wouldn't have been written if it didn't involve the Auburn football team.

    If the NYT came in and did a major sports investigative project that involved the program I cover, I would consider it a blow.

    To your point about beat writers asking professors if football players go to class....why not? Everybody should do stuff like that. A lot of great investigative projects start with beat writers just turning over a rock to see what's there.
  6. Yankee

    Yankee Member

    If the following is already stated, I am sorry. ... I have it on pretty good authority that this same prof sent at least one letter, maybe more, to the folks at the Birmingham paper and it went unchecked. The guy at the NYT didn't let that happen.
  7. PaseanaARG

    PaseanaARG Guest

    The guy at the NYT had Selena Roberts, an excellent reporter and an Auburn graduate, look into some of this. One could argue that she has some AU sources that even Birmingham doesn't have.

    So kudos to the NYT for a nice story. A huge deal? No. Overrated? Yes. Good reporting nonetheless? Absolutely.

    So let's put this one to bed, kids.

    Good luck to Ian. I think he'll be great.
  8. Hed bust

    Hed bust Guest

    I agree that it's past this thread's bedtime, but the comment by Yankee is dead-on and can serve as the overall message that was put forward when someone questioned whether this was indeed news (or sports) subject matter.
    It appears the story was available for local media to write, and it appears the local media chose not to do it.
  9. busuncle

    busuncle Member

    I hate to add to this thread that should die, but ....
    First, just because Yankee stated something doesn't make it true. Second, if true, it would be an indictment against one newspaper, not the entire "local media."
  10. 2underpar

    2underpar Active Member

    just out of curiosity, how many beat writers across the country have localized this major sports story from their schools/beats they cover?
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