NORMAN — Eric Mensik says he doesn’t have anything against the University of Oklahoma, its academic offerings or the advisers who helped him change his major to multidisciplinary studies.
“I’m not upset with anything that they’ve done for me,” Mensik, a former Sooner offensive lineman who graduated from OU in 2010, told The Oklahoman. “They did a wonderful job. If anything, at the end of the day it was my decision to major in multidisciplinary studies.”
Mensik is one of four athletes featured in next week’s episode of “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on HBO.
The segment, reported by Bernard Goldberg, investigates how decreased admission standards with higher graduation requirements led to many schools pushing players through with diplomas that did nothing to help them after their playing days were over.
Oklahoma officials declined to comment, likely until after the program airs Tuesday night.
The Oklahoman was provided an advance copy of the segment.
In the program, Mensik describes his degree as “a football degree” and says it hasn’t helped much in the search for a stable job.
A central part of the report is Mary Willingham, a University of North Carolina learning specialist who in a January story on CNN said her research on 183 football or basketball players at UNC from 2004-2012 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and about 10 percent below third-grade level.
“It was a horrible joke,” Willingham told HBO. “No learning took place.”
James W. Dean Jr., UNC’s provost, has said Willingham’s research was based on flawed data.
Gerald Gurney, a former senior associate athletic director at OU, was also interviewed by HBO. Gurney was also featured in the CNN story.
Gurney said his job at OU often included pushing football and basketball players to the “easiest major on campus.”
“These majors are not designed to develop critical thinking,” Gurney said. “it is not designed to give them a skill that is employable.”
Mensik doesn’t argue there.
He was a business major until his junior year, when a failed calculus class made things difficult for him.
“It kind of put a stop to that degree in the business school,” Mensik said. “Then I ended up changing over to multidisciplinary studies.
“They showed me some options, and that’s the one I chose. No one was like, ‘You have to take this,’ or, ‘You have to take that.’”
Mensik said his other options included communications and sociology.
“I didn’t have to take any more Calc II classes, that’s for sure,” Mensik said.
His classes included management information systems, finance and accounting. But he never got in depth with those subjects.
“I guess it would be like the entry level to each one of those,” he said.
After graduating from OU, Mensik pursued a career in professional football before moving back home to the Houston area. He now works as an account manager for a commercial insurance company in Missouri City, Texas.
“As far as them getting the classes that I needed, they did a fabulous job,” he said. “They set me up with everything I needed. They prepared me for graduation. But as far as the degree providing a starting point to get a job that I really would like to do, that degree has not helped me out so far.”
Mensik said he’s considered returning to school to get a master’s degree, but with a six-week-old son, further education has taken a back seat.
Other players interviewed in the program are former Tar Heels Bryon Bishop and Mike McAdoo and former Memphis defensive end/linebacker Dasmine Cathey.
Cathey became well-known after a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education detailed his college academic struggles — including his struggles with reading.
Cathey graduated from Memphis with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, though he didn’t know what exactly his degree was called when asked by HBO.
“You can’t see the things that are going on with the system until it’s over with — until it’s too late,” Bishop told the show. “I’m pretty much facing that now in reality. I’m asking myself what did I really get from the school.”
Gurney, who is now an assistant professor at OU, said situations like that led him to exit athletics.
“The enterprise is fraudulent,” Gurney told Real Sports. “When you sign a National Letter of Intent, the university is making a contract with the athlete. They are saying they will not pay you as a professional but they will educate you, and that’s where we across the nation fall far short.”
Mensik said he wishes colleges would do a better job of helping players once they’re done with sports.
“It’s not just an Oklahoma thing,” Mensik said. “It’s in all the schools, where the guys are leaving with general education degrees and some are really (ticked) off because they either don’t have a job or they have a job that doesn’t really pay well that they don’t have a skill-set degree that was able to land them a job that can really pay well.
“I’m not upset about any of it. I made the decisions that I made and I’m happy.”
OU does offer a Degree Completion Program, which is designed to help former student-athletes from all sports complete their degrees or attend graduate school after their athletic eligibility is expired.