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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Local Football Teams Need Major Upgrades

November 29, 2001|T.J. Simers

It's only a figure of speech, of course, but when I heard UCLA running back DeShaun Foster had completely thrown away his Heisman Trophy chances and his college eligibility, this on top of a marijuana violation a year earlier, I said, "Just how dumb can the guy be?"

Then I heard about quarterback Cory Paus, getting four days in jail and burying himself on the depth chart for driving drunk on top of another drunken experience with the law, and tell me you didn't say, "Just how dumb is this guy?"

Well, now we know. For the second consecutive year UCLA did not place one of its football players on the Pacific 10 Conference All-Academic first team. Of the 83 players receiving some kind of academic mention, only two Bruins received attention.

In fact, it would appear there is an educational void in L.A.--every team in the Pac-10 had someone on the 24-man first team--with the exception of UCLA and USC. UCLA offensive lineman Bryce Bohlander received a second-team mention--preventing a complete local shutout.

Here we are still dealing with the fact UCLA and USC don't have as many good football players as the other schools in the conference, and now we have data indicating other teams are not only better, but smarter too.

USC was the only school in the conference not to have a player on the first or second team. That's understandable because the NCAA put USC on probation and stopped the school's tutors doing term papers for the football players. That makes it so much tougher to get better grades.

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LET'S FACE it, when Stanford's coach tells us his players are studying their playbooks that means something because 17 of his players received academic recognition. Even Washington State, which will never be mentioned again in the same sentence with Harvard, had 14 players honored for their academic excellence.

Now, when I called USC to talk about the team's woeful academic showing, I was told the school would not discuss education. That didn't leave much to talk about.

The sports information department, however, told me seven players--among the more than 70 sophomores, juniors and seniors eligible for mention from the football team--met the criteria for having a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average. But only two of those were starters or players who made significant contributions as substitutes, and so both were nominated--receiving honorable mention because every player nominated receives honorable mention.

While USC wouldn't make someone available to talk about education, UCLA associate athletic director Betsy Stephenson agreed to meet . She said she knows the athletes in the Bruins' program, monitors their progress and remains confident they are doing their best in academics. She also said there has been no drop-off in the caliber of athlete being recruited to play football.

You have to wonder, though. Stephenson acknowledged UCLA athletes receive more help from tutors than students in the general population, which should enhance their chances of getting better grades--and yet it's not happening.

And now with Foster and Paus going brain-numb, the two highest profile football players in the program, you have to wonder are these only isolated incidents of good kids making mistakes, or the start of something more destructive?

Stephenson wouldn't talk about other schools, but she suggested UCLA's academic standards might make it tough on the football players. I mentioned Cal and Stanford were in the same conference, and she asked if I was through with her.

"There's a lot of competition up on that hill," said UCLA football Coach Bob Toledo, referring to the general student body. "They don't have to practice four hours a day and get up at 6:30 a.m. to lift weights like these football players do."

Maybe they shouldn't practice as much--it doesn't seem to be making a difference.

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WELL, HERE we go again, the Steve Lavin-coached belly-flop coming a little sooner than I expected--I was banking on UC Irvine, but Pepperdine under USC's Paul Westphal assumed the position of early-season Lavin tormentor with an 85-78 victory at Pauley Pavilion.

The critics, now armed with fresh evidence, will be out in full force demanding Lavin's ouster, a waste of time, of course, because Lavin probably will have the Bruins inSweet 16 contention once again when it comes time.

And on this night, instead of lambasting Lavin, it might be the proper time to salute Westphal for scoring big and so soon for Pepperdine.

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PHIL JACKSON predicted the Lakers would get off to a slow start this season. I see he has the makings of being a fine columnist.

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UTAH COACH Ron McBride, after learning his team will play in the Las Vegas Bowl, said, "Our fans really get excited about a name opponent like USC."

Aren't they going to be disappointed when they learn Coach Lou Holtz and the University of South Carolina aren't coming.

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UCLA IS probably headed to play Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Bowl with a victory over Arizona State--as if that's fair--Unitas Award winner David Carr as the best quarterback in the country versus senior Scott McEwan, making his second and final start for UCLA.

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I TOOK a week off, went to the Notre Dame-Stanford game as a guest of my older daughter, who insisted we sit through a rainstorm to the final second of the game to watch the Irish get beat. I told my wife we shouldn't have had children.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes from Hurleygrly21:

"Where's your column, wise guy?"

Right now I would imagine it's in front of your face.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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