NORMAN — Sadly, there is too much truth to Tuesday's HBO "Real Sports" segment on the fraudulent side of college academic centers.
There are real, almost tragic cases of assembly-line diplomas that leave big-time college athletes — football and men's basketball, primarily — clinging to a future only moderately more promising than the one they had in high school.
But the short documentary also paints a dark picture that doesn't come close to representing the breadth of student-athletes and their campus support systems.
"In most things, you get about what you put into it," Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops said on Tuesday.
That's easy for Stoops to say, of course, and predictable.
But he's exactly right.
Stoops says it depends on "how hard you work at it and what your talent is, what your skill is."
He's right about that, too.
But Dr. Gerald Gurney also is right.
Gurney, the OU assistant professor who was interviewed by "Real Sports" correspondent Bernard Goldberg for a segment called "Gaming the System," was originally tasked with making sure OU student-athletes stay eligible in what he now calls a "fraudulent enterprise." He essentially says the NCAA system in place, which emphasizes graduation over education, is broken.
It's almost heartbreaking to watch former Memphis defensive lineman Dasmine Cathey show Goldberg his stack of Dr. Seuss books he used to try to teach himself how to read.
But culpability for Cathey's illiteracy doesn't lie with the University of Memphis' academic advisers or tutors.
The young man was ushered through grade school and junior high and high school and given a high school diploma even though he can't read?
Memphis may have gamed the system to get a defensive lineman, and that's awful. Schools should have higher standards, athletic revenue be damned. But it is not Memphis' fault that Cathey can't read.
Likewise with former OU offensive lineman Eric Mensik, who also was interviewed by Goldberg. Mensik was majoring in business until he flunked an accounting class. Rather than take it again, he switched majors to graduate on time and now does what sounds like unspectacular office work for a Houston-area insurance company.
"I wouldn't imagine Eric is the only 25-year-old that doesn't have the job he wants, right?" Stoops said. "I bet there are quite a few out there that are trying to get a better job."
Mensik clarified to the Tulsa World that he wasn't pushed into switching to OU's multidisciplinary studies major, but rather was offered a series of choices on how he could still graduate on time.
Again, any fault there doesn't lie with OU's academic center. Mensik chose business, enrolled in accounting, flunked the class and then decided to switch majors.
"You talk to one guy, out of the thousands that have been through here?" Stoops asked. "... All you have to do is listen to what Gabe Ikard (says), who's just won a (postgraduate) scholarship and has been up for the scholastic Heisman and who is multidisciplinary studies (major) and is going to be doctor when he's finished."
Ikard explained in December that his seemingly simplistic degree allowed him to "build my own major and take all the classes I need as prerequisites for medical school. So that was something that the university does a great job of, is working with us and organizing our schedules so we can maximize our success in the classroom."
Ikard has a 4.0 grade point average, was named national Academic All-American of the Year and said whenever his NFL career finishes, he'll either continue on with his emphasis in medical sciences into med school or pursue any number of lucrative business opportunities that come his way.
The truth is, football and men's basketball programs across America are teeming with potential scholastic washouts. But many of them simply need guidance and motivation. And for every defensive lineman who can't read "Green Eggs and Ham," there's probably an offensive lineman with his mind set on medical school.
The NCAA's 2005 academic makeover — the Academic Progress Rate, which punishes individual teams for not retaining and/or graduating student-athletes — has placed an emphasis on what Gurney described as an urgency to keep them eligible.
That could mean the creation of no-show courses (a major talking point in the HBO segment, with a long, hard look at North Carolina), or looking the other way on attendance (something Stoops insists doesn't happen at OU), or tutors simply doing the work for the student (remember Sports Illustrated's revealing but deeply flawed look at Oklahoma State football last fall?)
One pitfall of an APR-based system is that it's a risk for the student-athlete and for the athletic department. For Mensik, failing meant staying longer or switching majors. For OU, it meant having a football player who might not be eligible. With scholarship reductions and millions of postseason dollars at stake, that's not an option.
"(APR) doesn't allow kids to pursue (a degree) as hard as they can," Stoops said. "... 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.
"I know we're very proud about how hard we work with our guys."
But Gurney apparently isn't. He said the current system limits "critical thinking" and makes student-athletes less employable. He told HBO he "could not do this any longer" and so stepped away from the athletic department and is a full-time academician.
OU declined official comment, other than Stoops' evening responses to questions following spring football practice.
"At the end of the day, you want to be a finance major and you fail calculus, you're gonna have to find something else to do," Stoops said. "That's just the real world, right?
"... You have to gravitate to something you can succeed in. It's either that or fail. At the end of the day, everyone has different abilities — on the field and in the classroom."