HBO explores perceived culture of ‘football degrees’

Posted March 26th, 2014


If an athlete came to the University of Texas, played football under coach Charlie Strong and earned a degree, is it the school’s fault if that person can’t land a fulfilling job by age 25?

That seems to be the issue presented by HBO’s Real Sports with its focus on “football degrees” handed out at three different schools, including the University of Oklahoma. The show first aired Tuesday night.

Dr. Gerald Gurney, who was once an associate athletic director, said he left OU’s athletic department because he felt he was working in the “fraudulent enterprise” of keeping athletes eligible. Former OU lineman Eric Mensik said he received a “football degree” in multidisciplinary studies and now works in the insurance business.


Multidisciplinary studies is a general term for a generalized degree. There is no specific area of focus. Many FBS universities have a general studies degree plan. A list of undergraduate degree programs at the University of Texas can be found here.

HBO’s piece also features former Memphis defensive lineman Dasmine Cathey, who claims to be illiterate even though he made it through his university. Cathey has been profiled before about his educational background, including a long piece in The New York Times in 2012.

OU officials did not issue a public comment about HBO’s report, which the network claims was the result of a six-month investigation. But OU football coach Bob Stoops hit back after Tuesday night’s practice.

“I wouldn’t imagine Eric is the only 25-year-old that doesn’t have the job he wants, right?,” Stoops told reporters. “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 is going to be (aired), but I know we’re very proud about how hard we work with our guys.”

Stoops said he received a business degree from Iowa and has never used it. But he still is doing what he wants in life.

“Our whole student body, there’s multidisciplinary studies (majors),” Stoops said. “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. That’s just the real world, right?… You have to gravitate to something you can succeed in. It’s either that or fail.”

Texas’ academic programs were not mentioned in the HBO piece. But academic discussions strike at Strong’s core. He is widely credited for improving the academic culture within the Louisville football program and has implemented the same tactics at Texas.

Just like at Louisville, the entire Texas coaching staff meets weekly with the academic support staff to discuss ongoing classwork. Strong is fully aware if his players are going to class. He also insists they sit among the first few rows and sometimes will go check himself.

Even if players are kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons, Strong has said he would still help that player stay on campus and finish his degree.

“Once you make a commitment with that scholarship, your commitment is that he’s going to get a degree,” Strong told the American-Statesman in an interview in February. “You want to uphold that commitment that he gets a degree from the university.”

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