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March 25, 2014

Stoops doesn't see bold headlines in HBO report

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Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is used to being under fire for something in Norman. Whether it's derogatory comments about the SEC or his views on players not receiving extra money because he was used to being hungry on Sundays, Stoops is often put in the headlines.

Short, bold sentences Mark Cuban recently referred to as 'Headline Porn'.

Stoops has seen his fair share of headline porn over the last 12 months. He's seeing more this week as HBO's Real Sports is set to release a report on NCAA student-athletes and the lengths schools go to keep players eligible.

SCOOPHD: BOB STOOPS TALKS HBO REPORT

video by Eddie Radosevich

HBO Sports interviewed former Sooner Eric Mensik for their story. In it, Mensik details how he was forced to change his major from 'Business' to 'Multidisciplinary Studies' because he failed a Calculus class.

As usual, Stoops had a quick-witted comeback regarding the HBO Sports report and Mensik's apparent dissatisfaction with his educational experience at the University of Oklahoma.

"It doesn't bother me a bit," said Stoops. "You talk to one guy out of the thousands that have been through here? Pretty simple to say and all you have to do is listen to what Gabe Ikard, who's just won a scholastic scholarship and has been for the scholastic Heisman and who is multidisciplinary studies and is going to be doctor when he's finished and Trey Millard, one of my other captains who graduated in three or three and a half years who has postgraduate scholarships as a psychology major.

"Not all bad."

That's Stoops dealing with headline porn on a Tuesday night just hours before HBO Sports reveals the full report.

But if you just pay attention to the sound bites, you miss how Stoops really feels about the issue of football players at Oklahoma and a college education.

"I think all kids deserve and should be in college," Stoops said after he returned to the Adrian Peterson Team Meeting Room after leaving following his initial post-practice interview. "They're better for the experience of having done it. I believe taking a guy from a tough background who hasn't had much and you give him an opportunity to participate and have the opportunity to get your degree.

"They're still better for having that experience, I think."

Mensik gave HBO Sports a storyline to include Oklahoma. It's the story of college football programs as factories that spit out athletes for their own personal gain. The story of Stoops' making $5 million a year while players leave a university without any marketable job skills is an easy conclusion when the NCAA hypocrisy makes it easy for everyone to make that leap.

Does Stoops feel like he's failed Mensik? No. But he's not saying the system doesn't deserve some tweaks to prevent players from having to change majors to remain eligible.

When the NCAA instituted the APR (Academic Progress Rate) program in 2004, their aim was to improve graduation rates among student-athletes at colleges all across the country. A system of checks and balances was put in place to keep players eligible, by keeping them on track to graduate in four to five years.

If players didn't remain on track to graduate, they became ineligible. When players failed to graduate at a level commensurate with the APR standards, schools were put on the hook for losses in scholarships or losing the ability to participate in postseason competitions, or worse.

Now a system was in place to keep athletes who, in many cases, didn't have the GPA or test scores to be accepted to many universities they would compete for on the athletic field.

A lot of these players want to take demanding majors to ensure they can get a good job out of college.

Mensik was one of those players. And he was caught in the APR's web.

With the time constraints and demands of being football players, a lot of these players can't pass demanding majors as they are already being stretched to their academic limits.

Stoops understands and cares about all these factors.

"I'm not saying a criticism of the APR, but it's a hurdle or a knock against it that it doesn't allow kids to pursue (a degree) as hard as they can and they may fail it, but now not everyone is failing because they're not going to class," said Stoops. "They took a tough major, they struggled and they couldn't do it. Now they're penalized for it.

"That is something for people to think about."

Stoops defended the academic integrity of his Oklahoma football program. He believes in the institution of higher education, even while pointing out the irony in his college curriculum versus his professional career.

"Bottom line: I was a business major," Stoops reminds. "No one told me what I had to do. I did what I wanted to do. Fortunately, I ended up a business marketing major. I don't know if I've used my degree. I guess everyone kind of has different talents and either does really well in school or doesn't do well in school. But that's across the whole country, kids in athletics and kids out of athletics."

Stoops looks at academics just like he looks at athletics. He sees it as a competition.

"Sure, you can stay in that major. Are you going to be able to do it? Do you want to work that hard? Even working that hard you may not be able to handle it," explained Stoops of how players have to think in the days of APR regulations. "What do you want to do? That's your choice. You realize you get three F's next semester you're not going to play and the university may throw you out too."

Stoops also defends OU's academic integrity through all of HBO's reporting. He doesn't see a picture being painted of players who are being walked to the finish line of a college degree with nothing to show for it.

He sees support for his players to reach their academic goals, not commodities being spit out of a football factory.

"I don't know it's fair to put it on them like they're doing something wrong," Stoops aid of his academic counselors. "They are trying to help the young man reach his potential in school, not just on the field. What are you able to do? Who do you want to point the finger at? The standards? The way they've made the rules now? Counselors aren't doing it for no reason."

All of this is a complex issue for Stoops, the NCAA and football programs across the country.

It's quite clear talking with Stoops Tuesday, he has put a lot of thought into the issues facing student-athletes and reaching their goals of a college degree.

It's the story that's harder to tell and less headline porn-y.

But it's not a case of OU being negligent in the eyes of Stoops. That's easy to see when you slow things down and talk to Stoops.

Maybe not so much when he's battling headlines though.

"I wouldn't imagine Eric is the only 25-year old that doesn't have the job he wants, right? I bet there are quite a few out there that are trying to get a better job," says the rambunctious Stoops we all know so well. "He's a great young man and I don't know what all it's going to be, but I know we're very proud about how hard we work with our guys."

But as Stoops left the interview room, and then returned, you get the true sense of where he stands on these issues.

Stoops believes he's helped many more athletes than have been hurt during his time in Norman.

"The whole culture of college, I believe, helps educate and build them and helps them grow," reiterated Stoops. "I think any young man, or any young woman that has that experience does. Having that experience is positive.

"Rather than still being in the tough streets somewhere and not having that opportunity or seeing a different way that people communicate and live - it's a totally different environment. Most kids really come and take advantage of and grow from it."

HBO Sports' report will certainly grab headlines. But Stoops doesn't see anything scandalous about the way his program is handling academics in Norman.

"I'm sure you'll find a headline in there somewhere," said Stoops as he walked away.

Yes, just not the kind that grabs everyone's attention.



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