1. Hoop academics:
Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Taylor Branch’s fabulous NCAA article in the Atlantic last fall entitled “The Shame of College Sports” and by Joe Nocera’s compelling Op-Ed columns in the New York Times arguing that the NCAA is all about money and nothing about education. And I admit I’m drafting this after watching the feel-good NCAA ads profiling the teams’ scholar-athletes during the March basketball tournament. But now that the Final Four have come and gone and we know that all five starters on the University of Kentucky’s winning team are quitting to join the NBA after just one or two years at school, I’m wondering what a reporter will find if he or she digs into the education these freshman and sophomores actually received.
What courses did they take? How rigorous were they? What do the players’ professors and fellow students have to say about their participation in class? Did the players do the work? Did they lag or excel?
How many hours did departing superstar freshman Anthony Davis actually spend in class in his first and only year at college? What papers did he write? What tests did he take? If he and others were serious students who got a real college education, however abbreviated, that would puncture a stereotype, and one definition of a good story is that it surprises people. If he or others on the team were completely divorced from anything approaching academics – perhaps by taking comically unacademic classes or rarely showing up, or both, or not going to class altogether once the season ended – that would add more indelible specifics to what Branch and Nocera have been writing about. (Update: Justin Peters got the ball rolling by doing a Slate piece on the majors of nearly all the players in the NCAA tournament.)
2. GSA: Beyond the Vegas boondoggle
I’ve been thinking about the hilarious, or maddening, story that broke last week about 300 employees from the federal General Services Administration spending more than $800,000 of taxpayer money on a “conference” at a plush resort near Las Vegas. The details, as disclosed by the GSA’s inspector general, included gourmet banquets, a $3,200 mind reader, $44-per-person breakfasts and $75,000 spent on a training exercise to build a bicycle. There was also a $136,000 tab for travel and meals just to conduct “dry run” planning sessions at the Nevada resort. The impact of all this was amplified by the inspector general giving a congressional committee a spoof video, recorded during the event, that was then released to the press