Local News

ESPN Dissin' Duke Basketball Over Degree Program

Posted March 8, 2002

— The Duke basketball team's graduation rate is 100 percent, according to NCAA's required graduation rate report. Some would argue the school just brings in smarter players.

But a recent ESPN story implied Duke's athletes are shuffled through

puff programs

to earn a 100 percent graduate rate among its African-American players, according to NCAA statistics.

Duke's Sociology Department chairman Ken Spenner bristles, "Is Sociology a puff program at Duke? We don't think so." The program is popular with men's basketball players.

On this year's roster, three of the players are Sociology Majors, three are History majors. More players are enrolled in the social sciences degree programs than applied sciences. Duke University says there is a reason students cluster into Sociology.

Ken Spenner explains that many athletes are interested in business courses.

"Duke does not have an undergraduate business major. And sociology manages a program called markets and management studies," Spenner says.

In the Sociology Department, students can get a marketing minor in sports management, a popular program among athletes nationwide.

Spenner says many athletes choose the Sociology Department for other reasons. They follow the lead of roomates and classmates, forming those clusters. The professor says many students simply find that Sociology offers classes which are interesting, in women's studies, race, economics and relationships.

While it is not impossible for students to pursue sciences, there are some difficulties for athletes. Their practice schedules and travel limit time available, especially in the afternoon. That's when many science labs are held.

But how unusual are Duke's basketball players choices? Not very.

There are clusters on Carolina's team too. Four major in Communication Studies and three in African-American Studies. The rest also major in liberal arts programs. Carolina could draw the same complaint: that students are heavy in social sciences.

N.C. State's team clusters in business management with four students enrolled in undergraduate school, the program Duke doesn't have.

Duke's Sociology program requires athletes to take statistics, research methodology, and applied theory. Not exactly cake-walk courses.

Still, Duke's athletes average SATs are lower than the student body at large, and they are chosen for athletic ability. Duke says its programs are not out of line with others in Division One in how students athletes are picked.

The University does not deny that some athletes who may try to take the easier courses within the Sociology degree program, but some students who are not athletes do the same thing in any degree area.

However, the Academic Council says the admissions director helps choose student athletes who they can help finish a degree, and a Duke degree is a good thing to obtain, whatever the major.

Peter Burian, the Academic Council Chairman and longtime Humanities professor at Duke says it is the university's responsibility to make sure the athletes finish.

"The athletic department has special resources available to help its students, and we would be remiss if we didn't. ESPN would be telling us we weren't taking care of our athletes and graduating them as we should," Burian says.

In its internal audits, Duke says the Sociology program is neither the easiest nor the hardest program on campus.

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