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Isiah Thomas: Colleges must value academic success more than athletic success
January 8th, 2014
06:38 PM ET

Isiah Thomas: Colleges must value academic success more than athletic success

(CNN) – NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas sent a tweet to CNN's Jake Tapper Tuesday night, responding to CNN's investigation into high rates of illiteracy among college athletes. Thomas' tweet linked to an essay, "Black Males, Athletes and Academic Achievement." The former basketball star penned it for the Huffington Post in July.

"College athletics, as it intersects with the educational and life outcomes of black male athletes, is in crisis. This crisis is evident in many ways, including the prevalence of once-aspiring professional black male athletes who end up with no degree, few job prospects, and used-up eligibility," Thomas wrote.

The problem with student athletes slipping through the cracks has gotten worse since his days in college, Thomas said in an interview with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

“As the money has continued to rise in athletics and the reward for winning has become so pricey, the student athlete is really there only to be an athlete and not necessarily a student,” said Thomas. “He is there really to entertain the student body, but not necessarily have access to an academic career.”

The money awarded now for athletic success, overrides the academic success a student athlete may have.

“You will receive more attention for winning an award or winning a championship, than actually graduating from the university,” said Thomas, who completed a Master’s of Education at the University of California, Berkeley last May.

What is further shocking is that these colleges and universities make tens of millions of dollars off these kids, and then allow them to graduate with poor skills.  Only 1.5% go on to become professional athletes, but the rest go out there with careers and can barely read.

Thomas was also a former coach at Florida International University, where he says he made sure his players were focused on academics.

To help make education more of a priority for college players, he says schools and the NCAA “just have to value academic success more than you value athletic success.”

“When I was at Indiana, Coach Knight valued academic success. He graduated over 90% of his players when we were there. I graduated over 90% of my players when I was at FIU,” said the former NBA star.

“Right now we are in a society that values athletic success more than it does academic success,” said Thomas.

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