Every semester, members of the University of Maryland basketball team take courses that have not been approved by their academic adviser, the university official who advises them said yesterday.
Larry Waters, who advises all athletes who are undecided on a major or are in the general studies program, told a subcommittee of the university task force studying academic problems of athletes that he reviews a computer printout of course lists and "sometimes it does not reflect what I had approved initially and I was not the one who approved the change."
After the meeting, Waters said the problem involved mainly basketball players -- usually "a couple" -- and as many as three courses per student. Because of NCAA eligibility rules, all athletes are required to have their schedule and any dropped courses approved.
"We don't know how they do it. We've got some ideas," Waters said. "We've said a lot and we've complained a lot. But we don't quite know what to do. A lot of these athletes have friends all over the place. We suspect they may have friends in the registration office -- there are students who work there, too. I don't know, and until we know I don't intend to speculate publicly."
Waters was the first of two campus officials to testify before the subcommittee studying the academic support unit for athletes. Yesterday was the first day the five subcommittees met in working sessions, and those meetings resulted in these disclosures: The athletic department wants to move academic coordinator Jim Dietsch to another position in the department, assistant athletic director Randy Hoffman said. The department is not unhappy with Dietsch, Hoffman said, but felt "our credibility on campus would be greater" with a Ph.D heading the support staff. Hoffman also revealed the existence of a report proposing changes in the structure of the unit. Waters and Hoffman agreed that counseling and tutoring are readily available on campus and that athletes don't use them enough or get enough guidance on how to use them. Waters proposed a more intense orientation program for athletes, to include their parents and to include testing "so we can come up with a better idea of who the student is."Athletes spend two hours practicing for every hour they study, the two student-athletes on the task force said. Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, a star wide receiver, said football coach Bobby Ross recently told team members that if they don't go to class, "I'll make sure you won't be around here." Abdur-Ra'oof said he had a 2.5 grade-point average in speech communication and "would be a B student if I wasn't a football player. . . . You can't be serious about academics and athletics at the same time."Athletic Director Dick Dull, also a member of the task force, said standards expected of athletes, coaches and himself are not in written form, but should be.
Waters is an official in the office of the vice chancellor for administrative affairs but has been on loan as a special assistant to the dean of undergraduate studies since 1983. He told the subcommittee he usually advises about three-quarters of all football recruits; this year he said he advised six of the 12 players on the basketball team.
Under NCAA rules, an athlete must choose a major by his junior year. Waters said that most athletes do not abuse the general studies program, which allows students to devise their own curricula, but said the possibilities exist for abuse.
"The general studies program has taken a lot of flack from a number of people for a lot of years," he told the subcommittee. "The general studies program, however, is an interdisciplinary degree that can be used exactly in any way the student wishes it. We caution the student first . . . that if you take course work that is essentially garbage, or nondirected in any way, you're going to get a nondirected, garbage degree out of it." Afterward, Waters said the changing of courses was a problem that involved "typically basketball, not the other sports, and just a very small number." He said several coaches, including Ross, lacrosse's Dick Edell and soccer's Alden Shattuck, have created an academic environment conducive to learning.
"All of those coaches are genuinely concerned," he said. "I don't mean to imply that basketball coach Lefty Driesell isn't. But they have created the atmosphere around those kids that lends itself to academic success."
When contacted for additional comment, Waters declined, saying task force chairman Robert Dorfman asked all those who spoke to refrain from making additional comments. Driesell has declined comment repeatedly since the cocaine-induced death of basketball star Len Bias on June 19, and subsequent revelations of academic shortcomings on the basketball team.