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Eddie Jordan fiasco speaks volumes
The sad, weird case of diploma-less Eddie Jordan ascending to head coach of his “alma mater,” Rutgers, was inevitable if not predictable.
An academic-athletic system comfortably indifferent to the education of the under-educated athletes it relies on to fuel a multi-billion-dollar television contract was bound to produce a high-profile coaching candidate equally indifferent about his own education.
Meet Eddie Jordan, a Rutgers basketball star in the 1970s plucked from the southeast side of Washington, D.C. and Archbishop Carroll High School. He led the Scarlet Knights to the 1976 Final Four, left Rutgers owning several school records, was a solid player for the New Jersey Nets, a bit player on some great Lakers teams and an NBA head coach for the Kings, Wizards and Sixers.
His highly honorable and successful basketball career was so distinguished that in 2004 Rutgers placed him in the University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni.
Friday, Deadspin.com revealed that Jordan never graduated from Rutgers. He failed to complete his physical education degree.
This is rather embarrassing. College athletics are supposed to be a part of the educational process. Getting a degree is supposed to be one of the main goals of earning an athletic scholarship. The head coach is supposed to be an educator, and a good one. That’s why Rutgers fired Mike Rice. He was a really, really bad educator. He was a foul-mouthed, abusive bully who embarrassed a proud university.
Rutgers replaced Rice with a coach who thought so little of his Rutgers education that he never bothered to get his degree. Jordan claims he came back to Rutgers in the mid-1980s and completed the course work necessary to earn his physical education degree. He claims he didn’t get it because he failed to register for the classes properly.
“There was arrogance on my part when I was told I didn’t register right and then I left to (coach at) Old Dominion,” Jordan told ESPN. “I was told my classes were never recorded. I saw a transcript. I will have to find it. I was there and I completed the work. My professors that are still there know that. That’s it.”
Jordan did not respond to my text messages requesting a conversation and further clarification. I did get in contact with two people I respect who know Jordan quite well. My good friend John Mitchell covered Jordan’s Wizards teams for the Washington Times. Etan Thomas was a backup center/forward on Jordan’s Wizards teams.
“Eddie is a great guy,” Mitchell told me. “I’d have no problem with my two sons playing basketball for Eddie.”
Thomas added: “I have nothing but good things to say about Coach Jordan. His record with the Wizards speaks for itself as far as coaching ability.... He is a coach of (high) character. I would doubt that he would do anything less than a great job at Rutgers both on and off the court.”
Hmm. I’m not so sure. I was an indifferent college student. I concentrated on socializing and playing football. I underachieved academically. It wasn’t until my fifth year of school, when I was done playing football, that I took my studies seriously. I graduated with a 2.3 grade-point average. Each year that passes, the higher I move up the journalism/media ladder, the more pissed off I get about my college educational indifference and the more proud I become that I earned a diploma. I’ve considered going back to school to pursue additional formal education. I devour books about history and the world during my free time.
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As I’ve gotten older and more financially comfortable, education has become a passion. I couldn’t imagine being 58 (Jordan’s age) and have Jordan’s financial wherewithal and no college degree. Is he intellectually inquisitive? If so, how does it manifest itself?
Jordan was an assistant coach at Rutgers from 1988-92, giving him a third opportunity to complete his studies and register for classes properly. Getting a college degree was obviously unimportant to Jordan. His actions reflect the same indifference to education that is pervasive throughout big-time college sports.
Since Jordan left Rutgers, college basketball has expanded its tournament to 68 teams, schools now play 35 to 40 games per season, they play on every night of the week late into the evening. The best players pretend to be students for one semester and then go through the motions the second semester before bolting to train for the NBA Draft.
Eddie Jordan and Rutgers are a perfect reflection of where we are with professional college athletics. No one really cares about education. Jordan has been pretending to have a degree since 1985. Rutgers joined the charade in 2004. Jordan’s education was so irrelevant to him and Rutgers that he and his “alma mater” thought nothing of holding an introductory news conference and issuing a press release trumpeting his degree, integrity and passion for Rutgers.
That’s how little academic integrity there is left in Division I college basketball and football. The perception of a degree is good enough to get you into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni and a million-dollar heading-coaching job.
I’m not saying Rutgers should fire Jordan. Laws in New Jersey do not require a college coach to have a degree. What I’m saying is this a bad look for Jordan, Rutgers and college athletics.
It’s the final piece of evidence that big-time college athletics embrace the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do motto of academic achievement.
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