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The Daily Gopher Fix 8.28.08

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Thanks to an untimely NCAA ruling and some interesting news decisions, the Gophers football team is entirely off-message as the season begins. No one is talking about if Adam Weber can improve or if Willie VanDeSteeg can return to form.

Instead, the water-cooler conversations at various Gopher holes today centered around  ACT test scores.

The Star Tribune followed its report Thursday by Dennis Brackin comparing ACT test scores among Big Ten institutions with an editorial taking a swipe at the powers that be in Dinkytown.

The University of Minnesota is taking a win-at-all costs approach to rebuilding its gridiron program. Here’s a question for U president Robert Bruininks, Athletic Director Joel Maturi and head coach Tim Brewster: Can’t a great university do better than this?

The story by Dennis Brackin had been in the works long before prize quarterback recruit MarQueis Gray was recently dropped from the program while officials review his academic record.

My issue lies with the STrib's decision making. Instead of publishing this information when they received it (they interviewed Maturi in July), the Minneapolis paper instead decided the story on ACT test scores wasn't newsworthy at the time.

Why? We asked Dennis Brackin, STrib assistant sports editor. From an email exchange:

A good question. I felt the Gophers' ACT scores were not dramatically different than other Big Ten programs, and elected not to run the story unless Brewster's class made academic news. When MarQueis Gray, the most heralded player of the class, was dropped from the team for irregular ACT scores, I felt the Gophers' recruitment of numerous at-risk players, and six JC recruits, was newsworthy.

So, instead of covering the issue in a straightforward manner, it appears the Star Tribune decided to capitalize the day after Gray was ruled ineligible. In my opinion, this is an example of the traditional media manipulating news for its own gain.

Back to the editorial:

Undoubtedly, there is intense pressure on the Gophers to field a winning team. No one wants a repeat of last year’s 1-11 record. And those who pushed for the new on-campus stadium understandably hope the team’s talent justifies the new digs and excites a new generation of fans and ticket buyers. But betting the team’s future on so many at-risk players is unwise, especially at a university where high-profile academic fraud in the basketball program is still a painful memory.

In its quest to become a world-class university, the U is demanding ever-higher entrance requirements from regular students, and the ACT for all incoming freshman this year is expected to be above 26. Desperation for gridiron victories and bowl games does not justify relaxing its standards for those who will take the field in maroon and gold.

First, recruiting students with ACT scores around 18 has nothing to do with Jan Ganglehoff Gate. If there is a comparison to the Ganglehoff-gate it is how a major paper held a major story until it was absolutely best for them and worst for the University.

Second, the NCAA now revokes scholarships from institutions that fail to graduate an approved number of players. Should the Unversity fail to academically nurture these "at-risk" players, the football program will be justifiably punished. This puts pressure on universities to do good by the students that they bring in to improve play on the field. Failure to do this comes with profound risk, and that's why there is significant merit to Maturi's point that graduation rates are the determining factor.

Lastly, debating the varying standards among typical students and student-athletes is a completely appropriate debate. I personally don't like the discrepancy. But it's too bad the Star Tribune decided when news was sexy enough for it's pages, because this is a high-brow conversation many of us would have participated in any day of the week.

Now . .... other stuff that is overshadowed.