Are Bibb County athletes ready for higher standards?

mlough@macon.comOctober 10, 2012 

Nigel Bowden is a very good football player, a hard-working and focused and personable kid.

He is also a superb student at an above-average high school, owner of a GPA better than 3.5 entering his senior year.

Big-time colleges found him and wanted him.

Nigel Bowden goes to a Bibb County high school.

We should talk about kids like Bowden -- who comes from a solid home -- around other kids who are in similar shoes: playing football at a Bibb County program.

OK, let’s expand it to kids playing anything anywhere.

Perhaps hearing that at least trying to be educated is a good thing, a life-changing thing, and that playing down to a stereotype is not, would grow tiresome and lead to change. Now, let’s add Bibb County parents -- all of them -- to the discourse.

Our county education’s mess, let there be no doubt, existed long before the latest “fixes.” It coincides with a mess in athletics and accompanying grousing about how bad the coaches are, misusing all that talent and brilliance.

It’s hysterical but not in a funny way. The problems fester not because of what happens or who is in the meeting rooms or the locker rooms but because of who runs the living room and is in charge of excuse-making.

That’s why Bibb County is woefully underrepresented on college rosters. Unofficially, there are fewer than a dozen Bibb County football alums on any of the 246 Division I rosters right now. And it’s about that many on any of the 155-plus Division II rosters. There might be more, but communication and organization are issues in the system, as well.

There is physical ability there, too often with debatable work ethic, which gets one crossed off the list. And college coaches have this one nit-picky requirement in the recruiting process: A kid must have the chance to get into the college in the first place.

This is not new, so parents and kids can’t plead ignorance, which doesn’t mean they won’t. More depressing is that locals aren’t even making it to junior college. Granted, the number of football-playing junior colleges in the Southeast is remarkably and ironically few.

Still, a junior college can be a path to a four-year school and a better life. One might not play on TV, but it beats a convenience store stoop at midnight. And that path can’t even get followed.

As Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson told the Macon Touchdown Club on Monday, that path is getting harder.

“One of the biggest things that’s coming down the pike in college football ... is the new academic requirements,” he said. “If you look at a lot of people’s signing classes (in) the last year or so, as many as 20 out of 25 wouldn’t be eligible.”

Needed: a 2.3 in 16 core courses -- up from 12 -- of four years of English; three years of Algebra I or higher; two years of natural or physical science; one year of additional English, math or natural/physical science; two years of social science; and four years additional from any of that or foreign language, philosophy or comparative religion.

Get a 2.0 in that curriculum, and you redshirt. Less, and you’re on your own.

“It’s a process they’re taking to the high schools to make them aware, so that they can start the guys out at a younger (age), ninth grade,” Johnson said. “And with the 16 core subjects, it’s going to be really interesting.”

Johnson, who noted that different states have different requirements, likes the intent but said it will limit a lot of kids’ access to school.

True, and that’s a reason to hope for a more progressive requirement upgrade. But as he has done before, and recently, NCAA president Mark Emmert -- formerly LSU’s president -- has overreached.

Not that we’ll feel those effects around here, where kids and parents -- and a fair number of administrators -- are still ignoring lower standards they were warned about and looking to pass blame instead of classes.

Fortunately, there is the occasional Bowden in our midst. Jump on his bandwagon.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or

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