UCLA coach Jim Mora has always had a chippy relationship with the media in his six-year tenure. This pre-season, he has restricted media access to the team and even more so to the players. It is all the more curious then how his biggest media nightmare, Josh Rosen in an open forum with a reporter, was allowed to happen. It did happen though, and Rosen, who has always been open about topics like paying college athletes, is getting headlines again for what he does or says off the field, instead of on it.
Rosen gave an interview to Bleacher Report in which he talked about his recovery from shoulder surgery, his expectations for the season, and how tough it is being a student athlete at UCLA. He went a step further and compared it to other schools in general, the University of Alabama specifically, and that is what made the headlines. Here is the thing though; many will misrepresent what he said or take it out of context, but he is not wrong.
If you allow yourself to work from the premise that not all colleges and universities are created equal at any level, then the same is certainly true when it comes to admissions and eligibility standards for athletes. Some schools are just a little more “lenient” when it comes to expectations for a four-star recruit.
Josh Rosen Was Right
What is happening with Rosen is one or two comments on what he is going through as a student-athlete in Westwood and using one a couple of schools for comparison sake has now drawn the ire, and the scoffs, of football fans throughout the Southeast. Rosen is studying Economics at UCLA and has his sights set on getting a MBA, and owning his own company after his football days are done. He was asked by Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report about having more time for class work as he rehabbed from last season’s shoulder surgery that cost him seven games. “Don’t get me started. I love school, but it’s hard. It’s cool because we’re learning more applicable stuff in my major (Economics)—not just the prerequisite stuff that’s designed to filter out people. But football really dents my ability to take some classes that I need. There are a bunch of classes that are only offered one time. There was a class this spring I had to take, but there was a conflict with spring football, so…” The message was clear. Time for football won out over the class he wanted to take. That makes this situation no different than 90% of D1 football programs in the country.
It’s what he said next that got people’s attention. In discussing how some athletes or some schools are more academically inclined, even for athletes, Rosen said, “Then there’s the other side that says raise the SAT eligibility requirements. OK, raise the SAT requirement at Alabama and see what kind of team they have. You lose athletes and then the product on the field suffers.” And there you have it. The one comment out of a 2,000 word interview that has people on fan boards feeling the need to defend the academics of a school, whether it is theirs or not.
Hayes reminded Rosen that there are academically accomplished college football players and used the example of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Artavis Scott who left for the NFL after three years, but did so with a college degree in hand. “I’m not knocking what those guys accomplished. They should be applauded for that. But certain schools are easier than others.” Slap number two and we are off to the races with the mocking of Rosen. But what did he say that was wrong? Was that it that he acknowledged some schools are easier than others? Was that he said it was certainly the case for athletes in some places? Or was it that he named names and they happen to be the defending playoff champion Tigers and perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide? Maybe it is just that he said anything at all?
Rosen was derided throughout college football fan boards as a guy who has never won anything and would not be good enough to play at Alabama. He was the top high school quarterback in the country four years ago, and Alabama offered him a scholarship, as did 22 other schools, but he committed to UCLA almost as quickly as he was offered, having already known Mora for several years. But all the badgering and scorn misses the veracity of what he said.
UCLA is ranked as the #2 public university in the country by US News and World Report. Alabama is 46th. Clemson is 66th. UCLA and Clemson do not publish admissions standards for athletes. Alabama does. According to the school athletics website, on the typical sliding scale, if an athlete has the minimum GPA for eligibility, a 2.5, they must have an 820 on the SAT. A “C” GPA and a 51% on the standardized test will qualify you if you are good enough to play football in Tuscaloosa, which not many are.
In Alabama’s favor, they graduate their football players. The Academic Progress Rate, (APR score) for the Tide is 979, 15 points above the national average. UCLA’s is a 971 and Clemson is right at the national average of 964. Is it easier to graduate from Alabama than UCLA or any other school? I don’t know and neither do any of the flame throwers defending Alabama on the message boards. To them it does not matter anyway. Alabama has football rings and Rosen does not, and that is the only scoreboard that really matters to them if they are honest with themselves.
In terms of overall student academics, the “Middle 50” for each school is dramatically different. The middle 50 means 25% of the new students got in with lower numbers and 25% got in with higher numbers. For UCLA’s 2016 incoming class, the middle 50 had a weighted GPA of 4.31 and a 1450 on the SAT. The school was the most applied to in the country with 97,000 applicants and a 15% acceptance rate. Alabama’s middle 50 had a 3.66 GPA, a 1210 on the SAT and there were 36,000 applicants with a 54% acceptance rate. Clemson did not publish a middle 50 for the GPA. The SAT was 1350 and there were 22,000 applicants with a 51% acceptance rate.
So, what does all this mean in the context of football and academics? Not much that we did not already know. There are the Stanfords and Vanderbilts of the athletic/academic world, and then there is everyone else with varying levels of arduous demands. There are the Deshaun Watsons, who, regardless of difficulty, graduated in three years which is an accomplishment to be lauded. There are the Joshua Dobbs (the former Tennessee quarterback), who studied Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering all while having a successful football career in Knoxville. And there are plenty who are taking whatever is needed to get by and stay eligible on the field, with hopes of playing at the next level. Most schools have them. We just don’t like to feel like a less than lustrous light is being cast upon our favorite football factory. But the incontrovertible facts are that UCLA is a more rigorous academic institution, even for athletes, than are many other schools. Neither Rosen nor the school should back away one inch from what he said. Alabama is better than many. So is Clemson. In other words, what we learned is, like it or not, Rosen was correct, no matter how much it rattles the “shut up and play football” crowd.