He is 21 years old now and does most of his soaring and scoring on the playgrounds near his apartment in Adams-Morgan. But not long ago, Tyrone Anderson was a star guard for the Eastern High School basketball team.
Once, he says matter of factly, he scored 19 against a Dunbar team led by Anthony Jones, now a starter and junior-to-be at Georgetown University. He knows he scored 19 because that's what they told him that day, although if you asked him at the time to multiply his field goals by two, then asked him to add his free throws to get his total points, he probably couldn't have figured it out.
When Tyrone Anderson was playing basketball at a level that made him a major-college prospect, his reading and mathematics skills were on the level of a child entering the second grade.
Yet here he was, eligible to play high school basketball, for a while, at least. The system eventually caught up with Anderson. He had repeated a grade in elementary school and by the time his senior year came around, he was too old to continue playing under the District's eligibility rules. And if he couldn't play, it made no sense to him to sit in a classroom and struggle with textbooks he couldn't even read. Eventually, he dropped out.
When you talk to people involved in high school and college athletics, they will tell you that there are many Tyrone Andersons still soaring and scoring and still eligible to compete at some of America's most prestigious institutions.
The biggest crisis in intercollegiate athletics today is no longer one of finance, they will tell you, but one of confidence in academic integrity.
They will also tell you that if Anderson had managed to go to class and graduate from high school, he very likely could have found himself being recruited to play college basketball. "No question, he had the talent, and I'm sure a lot of schools would have taken him in," says Herman Cannon, his coach at Eastern. Cannon will also tell you that Tyrone was not a troublemaker--just a sweet, coachable kid with a pleasant disposition and a dead-eye jump shot.
Anderson says he knows now that he was as much at fault for his problems as was a system that usually kept him moving from grade to grade, even if he could barely read his report card.
"They thought because I could play basketball, they'd just pass me through," he said recently. "I was so slow reading, I don't know why I was in 12th grade. I don't know how I got that far. I kinda liked it, didn't think much about it. But if I could do it over, I'd get into those books and stay in those books.
"Sure, part of it was my fault. I had problems getting up in the morning. I'd stay out and be running with my friends till midnight. I lived near Ballou and had to take the bus to Eastern. Sometimes I made it, sometimes I didn't. But every year, I'd get passed from grade to grade. Word got around I could play, and I got passed right through."
Cannon remembers Anderson as "a great player and a lousy student. He'd keep his grades up enough to play, but after the season, he didn't come to class, didn't do his homework. There's no doubt in my mind he could have been a college player. But he had problems in elementary and junior high, and I think that's where the blame has to go.
"Somebody has to know a kid is lacking something, and do something. I see it all the time. You do what you can, but by the time they get to this level, what can you do? The kid has to take some responsibility, too. We're not miracle workers."
Now, Anderson has a part-time job as a maintenance man in his apartment building in exchange for rent and pocket money. His landlord, a Washington attorney, has arranged to have Anderson tutored in reading and math, and Anderson hopes to take the high-school equivalency test this summer.
If he passes, he would like to go to a junior college because he knows he can still play basketball. More important, Anderson believes he will be able to handle the schoolwork. "I like reading now," he says. "I like to read the sports pages. If you can read, you can learn, and I'm learning a lot."
In recent years, the American public also has learned about abuses in academics, including several cases of transcript forgeries that led to federal indictments. These abuses have resulted in so much negative publicity that college presidents this year passed the controversial Proposition 48 at the NCAA convention.
Proposition 48 requires that, starting in 1986, an entering freshman score 700 of a possible 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or 15 of a possible 36 on the American College Test, and to average 2.0 of a possible 4.0 in a core curriculum of 11 academic subjects, including three years of English. The presidents also passed a companion rule requiring progress in a specific degree program.
The presidents said the delay in implementing Proposition 48 was to give youths time to adjust academically to the new rules. Since 1975, the only requirement to get a scholarship was a 2.0 high school average. It was permissible for grades from driver education, wood shop, home economics and other nonacademic courses to figure in the average.
Cynics said the presidents were attempting to put all the blame on the high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools. Many leaders of black education said the new rule was racist because standardized tests are inherently biased toward the predominant culture. He is one who believes he and his colleagues have more responsibility to their athletes than ever before.
"One of the major changes I've seen over the last few years is that there is a far greater need in high school and college programs for coaches to give direction and guidance to athletes on a curriculum that will guide them toward meaningful opportunity in life after they finish school," he said. "In the past, it was generally assumed that would happen. Now we have to make sure it does happen."
Maryland Athletic Director Dick Dull says he has emphasized to his coaches that minimum entrance requirements are not enough. He says he will not tolerate attempts to keep athletes eligible by allowing them to take easy courses, nor will he permit coaches to recruit high school students who will not be able to handle the college workload.
"My feeling and the feeling of the chancellor is that a 2.0 (C) is just not good enough," he said. "We have to have some assurance that a youngster can do the work at this level and can get a degree from this institution. If his skills are so deficient that we don't think he can succeed here, he will not get in.
"I believe there are an awful lot of hypocrites out there who pay lip service to academics. But I do believe people are starting to get more serious about admitting better students."
Still, available statistics on athletes and academics are generally abysmal among many of the nation's major athletic powers. Federal privacy laws effectively place an athlete's academic record out of public view. But in the six months since Proposition 48 passed, published reports have pointed out countless abuses.
At the University of South Carolina, eight of the 28 freshmen on football scholarships last year could barely read or write, according to the Columbia State newspaper. Three of those eight scored the equivalent of zero on the verbal portion of the SAT. All eight were placed in a special program designed to give them up to 12 credit hours of intensive reading and math instruction without competing with other students for grades.
"We were looking for a setting that they would be comfortable in," said Harold White, an academic counselor in the athletic department. "If they were reading on the third- or fourth-grade reading level, they could open up and work to improve that reading level. Our feeling was that if we could spend a year and get them ready for college instruction, then they could graduate in five years plus some summers."
The test scores became public when a university employe, saying the school was operating under a double standard, made them available to the newspaper. According to records of 19 athletes provided to that newspaper, 16 had combined SAT scores of less than 600, ranging from 440 to 590. During the same period, the average score of an entering freshman was 900.
Of the schools that play big-time football and basketball, admissions policies generally fall into two categories: those that admit athletes solely on the basis of a 2.0 high-school average, and those whose athletes go through the same admissions process as a regular student. Estimates are that three-quarters of the major football and basketball schools admit athletes solely on the basis of a 2.0 average.
At Iowa State University, Gerald Gurney, the athletic department's academic counselor, said most football and basketball players at his school read below the 10th-grade level and a few can be classified as functionally illiterate. He said the situation was probably the same at other major colleges because many athletes had poor classroom programs in high school.
"Many universities don't test the athletes because they don't want to know how illiterate some are," he said.
Yet, the athlete's academic problems show up in grades and graduation rates.
At Virginia Tech, a study prepared by a committee of professors and teachers appointed in 1980 showed that 41 percent of 164 athletes enrolled last fall had grade-point averages of 2.0 or less. The study said that, by comparison, only 15 percent of the entire student body had averages of 2.0 or below.
The study said that the difference could be explained by lower average scores on college entrance exams and by the demands their activities place on classroom attendance. According to the study, basketball players missed 14 days of classes in the previous winter quarter.
Tech, according to the study, graduates 43 percent of its athletes, compared with 60 percent for the overall student body. The 43 percent figure, however, is only slightly below those in the latest College Football Association graduation survey. It showed that 43.4 percent of aided football players initially enrolling in the fall of 1977 have graduated. Of 1,218 scholarship players, only 175 graduated in four years or less.
Just because an athlete receives a degree doesn't mean he has an education, and that is why many college presidents consider Proposition 56 (requiring pursuit of a degree) so important. The St. Petersburg Times recently reported that many football team members at the University of Florida concentrated on easy or remedial courses to stay eligible under NCAA rules.
The Times cited one player who raised his average by taking Outdoor Recreation Trends and Issues, Evaluation of Leisure Services, and Advanced Power Volleyball. Another player received high marks in Jazz Dance and Jogging. Another took and passed the same remedial reading course four straight times.
The Times found that a third of the team had been permitted to enroll in the university despite scoring below the required minimum on basic entrance examinations, and that 68 percent of the scholarship players carried a 1981 fall-term average below C, leaving the team with a D+ average. Forty-four percent of the 140 scholarship and walk-on players had total college averages lower than C.
But there is evidence that the academic cycle has reached its nadir. At South Carolina, the university president said he would allow fewer special exceptions and expected the academic performance of incoming recruits to be better. Under Coach Charley Pell, the academic motivations are better for the Florida football team, according to players quoted by the Times.
The NCAA Recruiting Committee recently voted to recommend to the NCAA Council that scholarships be granted for four years, instead of being renewable annually at the discretion of the coach. The committee also recommended that student-athletes be allowed financial aid until they graduate, instead of until their eligibility is used up. According to the CFA survey, one-third of players who initially enrolled in 1977 and completed their eligibility have not received degrees.
There is no certainty, however, that such rules will be passed by the general membership next January. It is an area in which there is a philosophical overlap. Such a move would almost certainly be beneficial academically, but it would be difficult financially for some schools.
Ross says he is a firm believer in emphasizing academics for his players, and does all he can to help them in the classroom. Maryland has two full-time academic advisers and will soon add a third.
But he is a realist. "My job isn't based on bringing in PhDs. I've got to win football games. We're trying to recruit players who can compete here on the field and academically, graduate and come out with something meaningful. I try to get them to get direction toward something after football."
"There are a number of players here who think football is extremely important to them, maybe their first priority. I'm not unhappy about that. But I also have a strong responsibility to get them to look beyond football."
Ross says his incoming freshman class will average about 850 on the college boards, with a high of 1,400 and a low of 620. Of last year's senior class, he says 80 percent have graduated or will soon graduate. And of last year's freshman class, only one of 17 will not return to school this year. That one player had personal problems not related to academic difficulties, he said.
"One of my biggest concerns has to do with what's going on in the high schools," Ross said. "With all the cutting back of money and deemphasis of sports at that level, the high school coaches have a hell of a tough time. A lot of coaches aren't even teaching at the schools they're coaching at. You need help monitoring the kids, their grades, what they're taking. These guys aren't getting the support academically or athletically, and it's a problem."
Said John Thompson, Georgetown's basketball coach: "Whatever applies to colleges should also apply to high schools. They are just as competitive and just as corrupt."
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