In a Class of Their Own 

On the football field, Cal has shown it has few equals. But in class, student athletes are separate and unequal.

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When Coach Tedford transferred from the University of Oregon to Berkeley in 2001, he not only set about winning, he also introduced a system called the "Academic Gameplan." The plan -- which was developed at Fresno State University, where Tedford coached in the mid-1990s -- is marketed as a way to teach personal accountability and time-management strategies, and improve graduation rates. The idea is that players are more likely to succeed if the university imports the rhythms of football into the classroom -- not merely by emphasizing regimentation over intellect, but by translating the language of the academy into football patois.

The plan begins with a spiral Daily Planner. As soon as they get their class syllabi, students are supposed to fill up a "Scouting Report" calendar with due dates. Next comes the "Daily Gameplan Lineup Card," which students are supposed to use to list every task from taking a history final to calling their girlfriends. There's also a little box to list tasks projected for next week, called "This Week on Deck." Last comes the yellow and pink "Gameplan Scoreboard," which is divided into four columns, labeled due date, type of item (homework, quiz, etc.), possible score, and earned score.

Under the Academic Gameplan, each student falls into one of three color categories. Red students, including all freshmen, are considered at risk of not passing and are compelled to attend seven hours of study hall and tutorial every week. Three times a week when they finish practice at 6 p.m., the reds come into the team room and have to show their day's work before they get dinner. Yellows are doing a pretty good job unitwise, but veering toward the edge gradewise; they have to spend two hours a week at tutorial. Greens are passing the right amount of units and staying on top of their grades as well. Excluding freshmen, the team currently comprises 61 greens, 13 yellows, and 10 reds.

Some may see this form of monitoring as the equivalent of academic boot camp, but the Bears' advising coordinator, Joe Morello, commends the coaches for being so involved in their students' academic work. Morello says the real value of this program is that the coaches hold the players accountable for their schoolwork. "Advisers actually play an auxiliary role," he says. "If I were to say 'Hey, look, I see you've missed two classes, and you didn't turn in your midterm paper on time,' a player might just let it slide. But if a coach said the same thing, he'd really listen."

From a tutor's vantage point, it has always appeared as if the players' primary motivation for attending tutorial wasn't to hone study strategies but to meet a weekly quota so they wouldn't have to run laps at 5:00 a.m. Athletes frequently blamed tutors like me when they had to endure such torture, because part of our job was to rat them out when they flaked. I once got so fed up with being vilified that I complained about the coaches' practice of physically punishing players to motivate them in the classroom. If this was the thrust of their college experience, I didn't see the point of tutoring.

But Morello said the players' motivation to please their coaches doesn't merely hinge on the threat of having to run, or having their free game tickets revoked. "It's not like the coaches are saying, 'If you don't do this work, you get whips with a wet noodle,' or anything like that," he said. "They're actually saying, 'If you don't do your work, there will be real consequences.'"

Since this is the style of instruction that successful football players have embraced on the field, Tedford believes it stands to reason that it would also help them thrive in the classroom. And indeed, the grade-point average of members of the football team has improved by .2 since Cal adopted the Academic Gameplan, said Ortega, the former Cal football player whose job is to keep track of players' grades and make sure they attend their classes -- which sometimes entails the unglamorous duty of following them around campus.

Many players find that the discipline they learn in football applies to other facets of life -- particularly those that involve a Calvinist ethic and a certain amount of spiritual buy-in. After playing center for the Bears during his first year of college, Marvin Philip redirected his energies to fulfilling his Mormon mission in South Dakota.

But for other players, it's a different story. They find the emphasis on control and standardization that's so successful on the football field patronizing in the context of academics. Ryan Jones, a 2003 graduate and former starting center for Cal, recalled: "When I was initially placed on the Gameplan in the fall of my senior year, I was horribly insulted by having to complete such menial tasks as filling the color-coded binder with dates and records of my study progress. I felt that the Gameplan dampened aspiring student athletes' ambitions by showing them a model for mere academic survival -- not outstanding success."

Jones noted in a recent interview that several of his fellow players never graduated or went pro. In fact, according to the NCAA, of the nation's 56,500 college football players, only about 250 get drafted by an NFL team each year, and even fewer make it onto a team's final roster. Cal will be rewarded for its successful football season with increased corporate and alumni donations and a rise in student applications, but most of the team's players will never play again after college, owing to debilitating injuries ranging from broken fingers and torn ligaments to degenerative disk disease. Meanwhile, only about half the players will leave Berkeley with a degree.

The Only Black Kids in Class

On a recent Monday night, a high-carbohydrate feast was being served in the mess hall at Memorial Stadium: big vats of spaghetti with runny marinara sauce, baked potatoes, corn off the cob, tortillas with pinto beans and sour cream, gooey chocolate mousse cake, five different kinds of sugary cereal, and pitchers of something pink and sweet. When the players finished eating, they filed into the Travers Big Game Room to meet with the ten advisers and coaches who oversee their academic progress at Cal. Each adviser meets regularly with five or six students to find out whether they've attended class, met with tutors, and finished their homework assignments. The players report their midterm grades to the advisers, who document their progress in big blue ledgers and also might demand to check a student's notes against those of other players attending the same class.

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