Star Louisiana State University cornerback Morris Claiborne either bombed the Wonderlic or didn’t give a shit about it. What can we learn from this?
Prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, Morris Claiborne determined he wasn’t going to waste his time with the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test. He proceeded to answer between 15 to 18 of the 50 questions on the test, four of which proved to be correct, then called it a day. When asked to explain his performance, he said the following:
All the talk that I was hearing about the Wonderlic is that it’s just not that important. Everybody I talked to, even coaches and all, they were like, “That test doesn’t mean nothing. That test is not going to declare where you go in the draft, or nothing like that.” So if they don’t have any football on there, I’m here for football, so what?
And it didn’t mean anything, at least not when it came to his draft position: Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys–a franchise that pioneered the use of the Wonderlic to evaluate players during the Tom Landry era–traded up to select him sixth overall.
Quite predictably, the blogosphere exploded in outrage. In one particularly well-argued piece, Forbes blogger James Marshall Crotty had this to say:
The Claiborne case is a prominent blemish to the state’s otherwise stellar education efforts. It needs to be investigated. What were Claiborne’s high school grades? What were his collegiate grades? What were his SAT scores? Let’s see those papers he had to write in high school and college. Let’s see that SAT essay. Let’s hear from student aides on whether Claiborne actually wrote his college papers or took his college exams. Because something is clearly awry with not only academics, but also football, in the state of Louisiana.
Crotty then concludes by stating that, although “Mr. Claiborne seems like a decent, good-natured, and hard-working young man…we should be concerned when athletes lack basic competency in any measure of intelligence.”
To which I respond, with all due respect, really? Really?
What we should be more concerned about is how many people continue to be surprised by developments like these. Since its inception in the United States, big-time college athletics has been characterized by corruption and hypocrisy. Legendary Yale coach Walter Camp was paid out of a secret slush fund. Late Pittsburgh Steelers owner and tramp athlete nonpareil Art Rooney, Sr., played for several college football teams and was enrolled in several colleges, yet graduated from none of them. And the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, coached by upstanding Scotsman Dr. John “Jock” Sutherland went on strike for higher wages before the 1937 Rose Bowl (they got them, and then proceeded to defeat the Washington Huskies 7-6).
In his 1989 book The Hundred-Yard Lie, former Northwestern cornerback and then-Sports Illustrated football correspondent Rick Telander offered other disturbing examples of various players who had flouted the system:
At Temple, former all-American running back Paul Palmer flunked remedial reading four times, completed no classes in his major, and failed or withdrew from every course he took his senior year. Among the classes Palmer, [who played briefly] for the Kansas City Chiefs, did complete were Bowling, Racquetball, Human Sexuality, Adjusting to a University, and Leisure. Earlier at Temple, president Peter J. Liacouras had angrily stated that he was going to strike Palmer’s many football records from the school record book because the young man had taken money [from an agent] before his amateur career was over. The president did not mention Palmer’s academic record, however, apparently being satisfied with the young man’s work in that area.
I defended John Calipari’s recruiting practices here on the Good Men Project, arguing that Coach Cal, sleazy or no, refuses to perpetuate the fraud that his players are anything but students of the game they’re playing. Claiborne, by refusing to give a shit about the Wonderlic, has done likewise. He’s a businessman, and college football…well, that’s just a business, man. He knew he’d wind up getting paid no matter what he did. His body of work spoke for itself.
At the end of The Hundred-Yard Lie, Telander offers a proposal to reform college football by turning a handful of the major programs into members of a semi-professional feeder league for the NFL. These programs would remain associated with the universities where they were based, enabling them to continue using the trademark uniforms and fight songs and mascots that their fans love so much. Their players would be entitled to a year of scholarship at the school for each year that they played on the team, paid a competitive salary, and forbidden from taking classes until they left the league (they’d need to focus on their work, after all, and when they’re done–provided an NFL career isn’t in the cards–they’d probably take their scholarships more seriously). All of the remaining college programs would revert to a model similar to that currently in place in Division III: no athletic scholarships, no redshirting except for legitimate medical reasons, and so forth. It’s a perfectly reasonable plan, and it’ll never happen.
Of course, all of this will be moot in a few years, at least as far as college football is concerned. The entire sport is one or two major lawsuits away from ceasing to exist, something that’s certain to break the hearts of diehard NFL Draft fans and their year-round mock drafts. At least they’ll always have their lists of old Wonderlic scores to keep memorizing.