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March 25, 2014

Lower degree of difficulty

NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma is one of three major schools featured in a segment of “HBO Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” that airs at 9 p.m. tonight. The Transcript received an advanced copy of it on Monday.

The segment titled “Gaming the System” focuses on the academic advising centers created since the NCAA instituted the Advanced Progress Rate in 2004 as a way to elevate athletes’ graduation rates and punish schools with postseason bans that fail to comply.

The crux of the HBO segment, which it says came after a six-month investigation, is athletes are pushed into simple majors in order to guarantee adequate APR scores for the schools.

Former OU associate athletic director Gerald Gurney and former offensive tackle Eric Mensik were both interviewed by HBO’s Bernard Goldberg for the story.

OU is one of the vast majority of Division I schools that offer a degree in multidisciplinary studies. That degree path is common among the Sooners’ football and men’s basketball team as well as athletes in other sports.

According to OU’s College of Arts and Sciences website, the degree “provides students the unique opportunity to design an innovative major tailored to their academic or professional interests.”

Mensik, who now lives in the Houston area, received a multidisciplinary studies degree in 2010, but told HBO it hasn’t helped him in the job market.

“It’s a football degree, yeah,” he said.

Gurney was the head of OU’s academic services for athletes from 1999-2011. He has been an outspoken critic of the current system, which he believes allows athletes to graduate without the critical thinking and job skills necessary for the job market.

“When you sign a national letter of intent, the university is making a contract with the athlete. They are saying we will not pay you as a professional, but they will educate you. That’s where I think we across the nation fall far short,” Gurney told HBO.

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