by Walter Brasch
The signing season has begun.
Look through your local newspaper for the next few weeks, and you'll see a lot of posed pictures of high school athletes.
Everyone will be at a desk or table.
Around each one will be their parents and their coach. In some cases, add in an athletic director, a principal, and someone representing a college the young athlete is planning to attend.
It makes no difference if it's a Division I or Division II school; sometimes it's even a Division III school. Star athletes at the end of their high school careers get photos and applause. They can even get special financial aid and scholarships just for being able to play a sport well. At Division I universities, they also receive special academic tutoring to make sure they stay eligible.
Excel on an athletic field, and the local media will take your picture and write stories about you. If you're good enough, the sportswriters might name you "Athlete of the Week" and present you with a certificate or small plaque.
At the end of the season--it makes little difference what season or what sport--you might be named to an all-district or all-regional or all-state team. You might even be voted by the sports writers in your area "Player of the Year" for your sport.
If you do extremely well in college sports, at the age of 22 you might be able to command a six- or seven-figure salary in a professional sport. Become a coach of a major sport at a Division I school, and even if your team is only mildly successful you'll earn several times what professors earn.
Now, let's pretend you're a scholar. Even in the world of rampant grade inflation, you're running an "A" average and are in the top 5 percent of your class. You just aced the SATs and are heading to a Division I university.
You probably won't get your picture in the paper, surrounded by parents, counselor, mentor, or anyone from that Division I university. It just isn't done. Newspapers have Sports sections, sometimes 8--12 pages; they don't have Education sections.
Although some editors may claim that "education" is spread throughout the newspaper, the reality is that column inches devoted to sports coverage is significantly greater than column inches devoted to education news.
The American educational system rated just 17th among 50 industrialized countries, according to an analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The countries with the leading educational systems, according to the EIU, were Scandinavian and Asian. The EIU analysis looked at both quantitative data (including class size, facilities, and government spending per pupil) and qualitative data (including development of cognitive skills.)