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Ever in awe of sporting women 

There are a couple of directions the columnist could go with the latest graduation rates for athletes released by the NCAA. One would be to lament again the hogaholic condition by which an entire state obsesses on a collegiate athletic program that is chronically unrewarding and destructive. This athletic program — and you know the one I mean, that empire of the pork — produces teams year upon year that are mediocre to poor. When it accomplishes something grand, such as a national basketball championship, it winds up poisoned by its own monster. It offers no fallback virtue, such as superior on-field behavior or better-than-average young people getting sound educations. Consider that we come at the SEC with second-tier football talent, cartoonish football coaching and, by these statistics, the lowest athletic graduation rates in the conference. Our motto should be: “If you think our tackling is bad, you ought to see us take a math test.” Yes, that would be one way to go. But that’s not the way I choose. The just-completed diatribe, satisfying though it was, will be quite enough of that kind of thing. I’m here to accentuate the positive. First, these statistics are always out of date. The latest release is for the six-year graduation rate of student athletes entering as freshmen in 1997. That’s like blasting me for a bad column two years ago and not considering the magnificent one unfolding under your noses at this very moment. The embarrassing but hardly unique zero graduation rate for men’s basketball at the University of Arkansas during the examined period is yesterday’s news. It does not take into account that of the eight players recruited by Nolan Richardson whom Stan Heath inherited two years ago, all eight have now graduated. At least that’s according to Kevin Trainor, the sports information director. It doesn’t consider that Heath is less hostile than Richardson toward, and in fact wholly obliging to, the administration’s demand that graduation rates for athletes improve. That might explain why two of Heath’s players took a test under the supervision of a University of Missouri professor while they were in Columbia to kick the Tigers’ tails last week. Second, the over-all athletic graduation rate at the UA, though the lowest in the SEC, is, at 49 percent, higher by a point than the graduation rate of the student body at large. So, our problem seems less a narrow one of athletics but a more pervasive one by which higher education is devalued. Third, even the graduation rate for the football team, which is historically the laboratory of most of the academic and behavioral problems on the Fayetteville campus, has improved to 47 percent. Finally, and most impressively, the UA’s rate is brought up primarily by women. It is a powerful modern trend that women have come to outperform men in higher academia, excepting science and engineering, where biases and stereotypes still exist. Anyone wishing to observe the finest examples of sound nurturing of body and mind should look no further than women’s collegiate sports programs such as the one at Fayetteville. While the men’s basketball team had no entering freshmen in 1997 graduate in six years, the Lady Backs, as they’re called, had a 100 percent graduation rate. That’s with the same kind of practice and travel schedule as the men. I’m told that the grade point average for all women playing intercollegiate sports at Fayetteville is 3.3. The current roster, I’m told, contains a couple of high school valedictorians. I stand ever in awe of women. That’s all I’ve got to say.
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