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Winter Olympic Games in Sochi; a Deadly Avalanche at the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado; Low Admission Standards for College Athletes

Aired January 9, 2014 - 04:00:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to your January Ninth edition of CNN STUDENT NEWS. I`m Carl Azuz. In less than a month the XXII Winter Olympic Games will kick off in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony is Friday, February 7th. Here`s by the numbers look at what`s ahead: 6,000 athletes competing. The best in the best in winter sports from 85 countries worldwide. The Olympics will run 17 days in the resort city. They`ll include 1650 Paralympians and they`ll be traveling to Sochi from 45 countries. Total number of events, 89. Some of them will take place near Sochi`s coast. Others in the mountains overlooking the city.

This could be the most expensive Winter Games ever. Russia`s spending at least $50 billion on things like roads, railways, stadiums, ski jumps and security. Russia says this will be the most secure Olympics ever. 25,000 police officers, 8,000 additional security officers. The country`s confident in Olympic safety, and that`s despite recent terrorists bombings in another Russian city. And this could be the warmest games ever. Sochi`s average temperature in February, 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

It`s colder than in Vail, Colorado, one of America`s largest ski resorts. It has some of the best skiing in the U.S. In Vail`s back country, away from the mountain itself, the terrain is only for the most experienced skiers and snowboarders. There is an avalanche control here. And two skiers and two snowboarders got caught in a sudden slide of snow Tuesday. Three of them were temporarily trapped. The fourth person, the grandson of one of Vail`s cofounders was killed. Officials believe the avalanche was caused by the skiers and snowboarders. Conditions might have been right for one.


ETHAN GREENE, COLORADO AVALANCHE INFORMATION CENTER: What we`ve been seeing over the last, say, ten days or so - is just a general increase in the size of the avalanches in the back country.


GREENE: Well, we have some very weak snow near the ground that formed earlier in the season, and we`ve been getting kind of consistent snowfalls, so the slab over it starting to get thicker and larger.


AZUZ: Skier Davis Lamere (ph) recently rescued his brother from an avalanche in the same area. It clearly shows you how quick and dangerous these events can be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time for the "Shoutout." Which of these college sports is not regulated by the NCAA? If you think you know it, shout it out! Is it: baseball, football, water polo or none of the above?

In addition to football and baseball, the NCAA oversees many college sports including water polo, rifle (ph) and bowling. That`s your answer and that`s your shoutout.

AZUZ: NCAA athletes are known for competing at top collegiate levels, but at some schools, they may not be able to compete academically. What does it matter, if they are helping bringing money for universities and sports like football and baseball? And if they are hoping to go pro. Well, for one thing - they probably won`t. The percentage of NCAA football players who go pro, 1.7 percent. Percentage of NCAA basketball players who go pro, 1.2 percent. And the chances of high school athletes going pro are well below one percent for every major U.S. sport. This is why: the low test scores reported for many of today`s college athletes are causing concern well beyond campus.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The University of North Carolina is not just an athletic powerhouse with dedicated fans. It`s also a top tier academic institution. But one academic counselor there who spent years tutoring student athletes, says too many of them can`t even read.

MARY WILLINGHAM, UNC WHISTLEBLOWER: I mean we may as well just go over to Glenwood Elementary right off the street and just let all the fourth graders in here, third graders in here.

GANIM (on camera): If they can`t read and there are no remedial classes, what`s the option? To cheat?

WILLINGHAM: The other option is to cheat. That`s correct. Or to find some professor, some course of curriculum where there are professors or there is little or no work expected of the student.

GANIM (voice over): Mary Willingham says there are athletes who come to the University of North Carolina who are reading at a third and fourth grade level. She says there is no way for them to succeed in a college classroom. The only place they can succeed here, is on the football field.

Willingham is one of the few people we could find who`s looking at the reading levels of athletes in the revenue-generating sports: football and basketball.

WILLINGHAM: They are leaving here, a profit-sport athletes without an education. They are significantly behind the level of reading and writing that`s required .

GANIM: With the university`s permission, she combed through eight years- worth of test scores. And found that up to 25 percent of athletes in the revenue sports don`t have the skills to take classes at a community college, let alone a competitive university like UNC. Looking at 183 football and basketball players between 2004 and 2012, Willingham found that eight percent were reading below a fourth grade level, and 60 percent were reading between a 4 and 8 grade reading level.

We wanted to know: is this happening in other schools? The NSAA told us that in 2012 alone there were 30 football and basketball players who were admitted with very low test scores. Of course, they point out, that`s just a small percentage of the 5700 athletes admitted that year who are playing those sports. But we wanted to know for ourselves. So, we filed open records requests at 37 public universities across the country or open records the laws apply. We asked for six years` worth of data.

We`ve got data back from 21 division one universities, including top 25- ranked footballs schools like Texas A&M, Georgia, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Climson (ph). The results were startling. Most schools had between seven and 18 percent of football and basketball players scoring so low on the reading portion of their exams, experts told us they would only be reading at an elementary level. That`s an ACT score of 16 or less, or below 400 on the reading portion of the SAT.

But many of the universities had different explanations for low test scores, like Texas, which said some athletes don`t try very hard, aiming only to become NCAA eligible. Or "Washington," which pointed out, low scores may indicate learning disabilities. And Louisville, which says entrance exams are just one factor considered when admitting a student athlete. You can read their full responses on

Not every school we asked would give us information. In fact, about half refused or said they`d send the data after football season. Why did we first go to UNC? We were following up on a scandal from two years ago, when it was discovered that many student athletes were enrolled in classes that required little or no work.

Even though the NCAA said it found no athletic scandal, a professor was recently indicted for fraud and UNC`s own internal investigation found evidence of academic fraud. As a result, the schools says it put in place 120 reforms and insist that UNC`s athletic program is now clean.

(on camera): And you are confident here that you`re doing the right thing by student athletes.

BUBBA CUNNINGHAM, UNC ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: I`m very confident. And I think our track record over time that we admit students who can do the work. Now, we are also highly competitive, and our students have to compete Monday through Friday as well as they do on Saturday. And I think the ones that are really committed to being authentic students, they are.

GANIM: Mary Willingham says she`s skeptical these changes have made a difference.

WILLINGHAM: We say that we made 120 changes, which you can make all the changes you want, but if you are still not meeting students where they are at as an educator, and bringing them along so that they can have success in the classroom. Then those changes are all for nothing.

GANIM: CNN also talked to a dozen professors and advisors at multiple universities and may echo what Mary Willingham found. Now, the universities argue, they are satisfied with their overall graduation rates, but the question, of course, is how these athletes graduate if they can`t read. Sara Ganim, CNN Washington.


AZUZ: From Newport to Noonan, we are heading states on both U.S. coasts, and today`s CNN STUDENT NEWS "Roll Call." In Newport, Washington, hello to the grizzlies of Newport High School. Stopping by New Mexico to check in with the Monzano High School monarchs in Albuquerque. Monarchs rule. And from Noon in Georgia, shoutout to the Cougars of Noonans High School. Thanks to some of you for visiting earlier this week.

AZUZ: Think fast. Favorite vending machine food. Candy, cookies, snack bars. But a burrito? Oh, no. But oh, yes, says this beef been and tortilla machine. It`s located at a West Hollywood gas station and some of those who tried it, say for the price. The burritos are pretty good. They are $3 each, so you could do the math on that. The machine offers free WiFi for the wait, because it does somehow cook the food. After all, no one would want a Burrito.

It`s pretty detailed and it shows you how vending machines are just stuffed with possibilities. Well, now the secret`s out. We`ve spilled the beans, and we`ll be looking to more news in the tomorrow`s 10 minute raps. We hope you lead that up. For CNN STUDENT NEWS, I`m Carl Azuz.