“He has a fantastic record as well, having beaten us on the Lions tour in 2009, having won a World Cup in 2007, his record in the Super 15 too, he’s a fantastic player. “I was delighted with the compliment he gave me, but it’s all irrelevant come tomorrow afternoon.” South Africa edged past New Zealand in Johannesburg 27-25 last month, inflicting just the All Blacks’ second defeat since claiming the World Cup on home soil in 2011. Young fly-half Handre Pollard has been credited with helping coach Heyneke Meyer add an expansive attacking edge to the Springboks’ naturally-aggressive tight play. Munster’s 35-year-old lock O’Connell has warned Ireland to steel themselves for one of their toughest physical assaults yet, despite South Africa’s improved wide threat. “They are different in a better way, so many of the things they do I recognise from a few years ago,” said O’Connell. “They still have an excellent maul, they score numerous tries from that. “It’s very effective for them in terms of exiting as well. “They are very good at the back of the lineout and putting their centres and wingers into midfield, and putting teams under pressure that way. “So you recognise that from the past, and they are still strong there. “But the way they’ve been playing with ball in hand recently, I just think they’ve an extra string to their bow that they maybe didn’t have when they won the World Cup, or they didn’t maybe use then or in 2009. “So it makes the challenge even bigger again.” Press Association Paul O’Connell believes “the best lineout forward in the world” Victor Matfield is better now than when he quit rugby for two years in 2011. Ireland captain O’Connell hailed Springboks stalwart Matfield for adding extra steel to the South African ranks that had been missing during his temporary retirement. The oldest Springbok of all time at 37, Matfield quit the game entirely after Rugby World Cup 2011, only to be enticed back to both the Super 15 and Test arenas. Matfield praised O’Connell as “the best player I’ve played against” earlier this week, ahead of Ireland hosting South Africa in Dublin on Saturday. Munster talisman O’Connell said no amount of love-ins will detract from the brutal task facing Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side in the Aviva Stadium Test. “I think he’s the best lineout forward in the world and has been for a long time,” said O’Connell. “To be able to take two years out, come back and be as good as if not better than he ever was is an incredible achievement. “He still seems to be using pretty much the same system he has used for seven, eight, nine years, the same lineouts, and teams just can’t come near him on his ball. “You see in that New Zealand game the amount of lineouts that South Africa upset all across the board, not just Victor Matfield, but Vermeulen as well. “I think it contributed massively to the result: if you can’t be sure of your own ball when you go to the touch, to start plays or exit from your half of the pitch, it’s a really tough way to play the game. “I think it’s probably something South Africa have been missing in recent years, and he’s brought it back with abundance.
The perpetual stereotype of the dumb jock is far from dead in today’s society, and at college campuses, idolized student-athletes are walking to the same classes that every other student is — or are they?At USC, student-athletes account for roughly 1.2 percent of the total student population. The USC Athletics website lists 516 student-athletes accounting for the 43,000 total students at the University.With the added burden of competing at a Division I school on teams that are regularly competing for national championships, it would be easy for student-athletes to allow academics to fall by the wayside.Not the case at USCThe NCAA collects and reports data from colleges and universities regarding both their student graduation rates and student-athlete graduation rates. The rate is determined by calculating the proportion of first-year, full-time student-athletes who enter a school with institutional aid and graduate in six years. This is called the student-athlete graduation success rate.USC’s overall student-athlete GSR is 81. In comparison with the regular student body though, the numbers are a bit more grim. Ninety-one percent of the 2008-2009 freshmen class went on to graduate in four years. Only 70 percent of student-athletes from the same class graduated at the same time.This is partly due to the time commitments that athletes are dedicating themselves to on a daily basis that the regular student does not have. According to a study by the Pac-12 in April 2015, student-athletes self-reported spending 50 hours a week on athletics during the season. This is significantly more time than the 20 hours a week permitted by the NCAA.At the College Sport Research Institution at the University of South Carolina, Mark Nagel is the associate director of the program that recently researched graduation gaps of Division I basketball players.“The bottom line is, particularly in revenue sports, it’s putting a round peg in a square hole,” Nagel said. “Universities are set up with education as their goal. Football and basketball programs are not set up with education as their goal. As the money has become unbelievably larger, it has dominated what is important.”The GSR rate for USC’s men’s basketball teams is 82, tied for the fifth highest in the conference. The football team, however, which has the lowest GSR on campus at 58, is second to last in the Pac-12.Magdi El-Shahawy is USC’s associate athletic director in charge of Student-Athlete Academic Services. He declined to comment for this story. However, he did speak on the matter in an article on the USC Ripsit blog from November.“Our current football GSR is a victim of our on-field success back then,” El-Shahawy said. “Of the 71 players in the 2005 to 2008 cohort, 41 of them graduated in the six-year GSR window. Of those who didn’t, 22 competed in the NFL. Ten left USC within one semester of graduating and four came back to USC after the six-year window to get their degrees. Next year, when the 2005 figure will no longer be part of the calculation, our football GSR will rise significantly.”The Trojans’ second lowest sport in terms of GSR is track and field (73) something Nagel said isn’t that surprising despite the fact that it isn’t a revenue sport.“Track and field is one of the few non-revenue sports that attracts a disproportionate number of African American and minority athletes,” Nagel said. “African American and minority athletes are coming from schools that are not as strong. It looks a lot like a revenue sport having underprepared students coming into the system.”Of the African American track and field athletes who were freshmen in 2008-2009, only 63 percent graduated in four years and 75 percent in the GSR period of six years.Seven sports have a GSR of more than 90 percent including two that boast a 100 percent rate — women’s basketball and women’s golf. The other sports are women’s water polo (96), women’s soccer (95), women’s rowing (94), women’s volleyball (91) and baseball (91). Baseball is the only men’s sport above the 90 percent mark.What are students studying?On the USC Athletics website, an athlete’s major is often one of the listed facts in the personal section.Of the 516 student-athletes on the website, 89 did not have a major listed. An additional 99 student-athletes have their major listed as undecided or undeclared, leaving 328 listed majors.Thirty-seven percent of student-athletes with a listed major fall into two majors: communication (67 students) and business administration (53 students). Both majors require 48 units of coursework. The drop-off between business and the next most common major is significant — there are 22 student-athletes that are human biology majors.Above the restThe USC Ripsit blog, the athletic department’s blog, lists the average GPA of a student-athlete at 2.94 during the fall 2015 semester. According to the Panhellenic Council website, the average GPA for the USC student body is 3.21.“What is particularly impressive is that they are able to do well academically at a university where the academic profile of the student body continues to rise,” El-Shahawy said in the post. “That means our student-athletes are performing better and doing so against better competition.”USC’s blog post went on to note that the highest team GPA was the women’s soccer team with a cumulative GPA of 3.30. However, the women’s lacrosse team saw the most athletes make the Dean’s List with 15 members.“The fact that in most cases the female athletes are much closer to the performance of the female student body,” Nagel said. “If you are a female athlete, there isn’t as much of a pot of gold waiting for you. There is greater motivation for women athletes to keep education as a priority.”The pot of gold waits for NFL hopefuls, however. The football team recorded its highest in-season GPA ever of 2.66, according to the blog. Thirty-six members of the team recorded a 3.0 GPA and the blog post said the team had its “fewest-ever sub-2.0 performers.” A 2.0 is the lowest GPA a student can have and graduate.“If you ask any coach, they need to win, they need their athletes to perform,” Nagel said. “No one ever gets fired for bad graduation rates, they get fired for not winning. Losing equates to a lot less money.”