NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was ready to go when asked about Tuesday night’s episode of RealSports on HBO.
“Why’d you guys wait so long to ask?” Stoops said when the subject was broached about 15 minutes into Tuesday evening’s interview session.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit,” Stoops said. “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 up for the scholastic Heisman and who is multidisciplinary studies and is going to be a doctor when he’s finished.”
The show featured former athletic department official Gerald Gurney, who is still an assistant professor at OU, and former Sooner offensive lineman Eric Mensik.
Mensik called his multidisciplinary studies degree a “football degree” when speaking to Bernard Goldberg, who reported the piece for HBO.
The episode deals with the change, about a decade ago, from more strict entrance requirements to measuring college athletic programs by their Academic Progress Rates. If APR rates fall below a certain threshold, teams can be penalized scholarships or held out of the postseason.
Real Sports, in interviews with Gurney, Mensik, former North Carolina and Memphis players and UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham, made the connection that schools funneled players to certain majors so they would graduate, without regard to what good that diploma did for them after college.
“Can you imagine what it might be like if the University of Oklahoma could not go to a bowl game?” Gurney said. “Could you imagine what might happen? I mean, that’s an impossibility.”
Stoops said he hadn’t seen the show before it aired.
“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. 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.”
Ikard, who finished his eligibility last season and won many academic awards while at OU, took to Twitter to defend his degree a bit.
“Interested to see what @HBO’s Real Sports is going to say about my Multidisciplinary Studies degree. Wonder why they didn’t interview me?” Ikard tweeted.
Mensik said he was approached by an HBO producer through LinkedIn. After a couple of phone interviews, Real Sports reporters flew to Houston to interview Mensik a little less than a month ago.
Mensik was initially a business major initially before failing a calculus class late in his junior year. Instead of extending his time at OU, he opted to switch majors and was given several choices of majors where he could still graduate on time — multidisciplinary studies being one of them.
Different people have different academic ceilings, Stoops said, and advisors try to work with students to make sure they’re in a place where they can excel.
“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?
“At the end of the day, everyone has different abilities — on the field and in the classroom.”
Stoops said the APR standard can also keep athletes from pushing themselves as hard as they can academically.
“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,” Stoops said. “They took a tough major, they struggled and they couldn’t do it. Now they’re penalized for it.”
Stoops said he knows of many athletes who came into college with grades and test scores that would’ve made it difficult or impossible for them to get enrolled in college before the APR standard who have prospered in college.
“I think all kids deserve and should be in college,” Stoops said. “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. … Most kids really come and take advantage of and grow from it.”