After CRN’s first season as head coach at UCLA, I had the pleasure of playing golf with him as part of a foursome I had purchased at a UCLA True Blue Fundraiser. We talked about a lot of things during the 6 plus hours we were together (we had lunch and drinks afterwards). But the one thing that stuck out as really interesting was his response to some questions I asked about the challenges of recruiting kids to play at UCLA.
CAVEAT: I’ve been very reluctant to disclose too much from what I learned from CRN on this golf outing, fearing some perceived (albeit internally motivated)“breach of confidence”. But after reading Nestor’s recent post on the narrative surrounding CRN’s tenure as the Head Coach at UCLA, I wanted to post this part of the conversation that was really revealing and relevant to this discussion. Given this community’s passion about UCLA’s academic and athletic programs, I wanted to put this issue out there for discussion.
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In response to my recruiting challenges inquiry, CRN went-on with his usual discourse about how easy it is to “sell” UCLA to recruits. The location, reputation, beauty of the campus, academics ect. make it a very easy sell. Plus, CRN is so friggin’ personable he could sell ice water to Eskimos. He continued by stating that he didn’t think the issue was getting kids we wanted into the University. He hadn’t yet, and didn’t expect to miss out on kids they were targeting because of admissions challenges. This is when he dropped the following.
The bigger challenge according to CRN, was once kids got to UCLA. The academic rigors at UCLA made it extremely unfair on our athletes compared to what athletes experience at other schools. The time spent keeping kids on track academically who were part of the football program negatively impact the time spent, lifting, studying the playbook, working improving their football skills both formally (during the season) and informally (during the off season).
In particular, CRN pointed to Michigan. He indicated that when Lloyd Carr negotiated his contract with Michigan he asked for, and the university implemented, a major in Education. Many of the elite athletes that attend Michigan now select this major, which isn’t very rigorous and apparently gives them the time needed to succeed on the field while not worrying about failing in the classroom. According to CRN, this was something he hoped to try and start while he was at UCLA.
I went to the Michigan admissions website and it states that they offer over 200 undergraduate degrees. UCLA has 127 according to it's website. Cal has about the same and possibly less (I couldn’t find an exact number on their website, like I found with UCLA and MICHIGAN so I had to count by hand). I looked at Stanford’s website and couldn’t find a number of majors on the site or if they offered an Education major either. My research stopped there.
The point is, are we looking at how UCLA recruits and retains elite athletes incorrectly? Most of our focus and discourse has been around the difficulties getting talent into the university. There are examples of how the admissions department has “dropped” the ball on some elite targets. But what about our ability to fully develop athletes once they arrive on campus? If athletes who come to UCLA don’t at least have the option to take much less rigorous academic paths so they can pursue their true passion (and in many cases the real reason they come to university, which is to play football or other sports) then are we starting at a disadvantage?
Is UCLA missing out on a segment of student athletes who want to be athletes first and students second? Who want to be students and attend a great university like UCLA, but pursue athletics first while still getting a good college education, and have difficulty excelling at both because one pursuit prevents them from truly exceeding in the other? Why not offer majors like “education” or legitimate academic pursuits that don’t require the normal rigorous academic grind? Certainly there will be extremely bright, ambitious athletes like ATV or Chris Josephs who can handle the academics and choose to push themselves academically. But we certainly hear of stories of athletes like Stan Hasiak or Jeff Baca who fail to meet the minimum academic requirements to remain student athletes at UCLA (although Baca got a bit over his skis as a Physical Sciences Major). But how many other athletes could have achieved more athletically if they had the chance to put in the extra time lifting, running, studying the playbook?
No one wants to diminish the academic reputation of UCLA. We’re not talking about letting kids take ball room dancing classes or major in ankle taping. But if theperceived mid-western University counterpart has found a way to provide student athletes a greater choice of majors, thereby paving the way for a greater chance of success both on and off the field while in college, and many other Universities seem to be doing the same, shouldn’t UCLA do something to remedy this “Major” problem.
Or do you think it is even a problem?
I for one, share CRN’s belief on this subject.
Others in this community, I’m sure will disagree.