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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on December 17th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 41

Benchwarmer says let's ask for more from student athletes

BY KRISTINA SEWELL

Back in my college days, which seem so far away now, I was known around campus for being an English major and a talented writer. In college speak this translates to “Hey, that chick can help me with my paper!”

That’s how the student athlete with 18 units who was also running the college’s newspaper also became the go-to girl for helping friends and fellow athletes work on term papers.

I worked primarily as an unofficial writing tutor for athletes, from basketball players to lacrosse players, and even some soccer players. While some of the athletes were not terrible writers, there were others whose papers I would read over and wonder: How did you get into college? Don’t they make you write an essay? I was baffled by the work I saw, but I figured I was just being too critical.

These athletes struggled to keep up with their college-level classes, strategically earning a careful balance of C’s and D’s to meet their eligibility requirements for sports. I thought these particular athletes were lazy and irresponsible.

But now as a college graduate and a Benchwarmer who gets to explore the not-so-fine corners of the world of sports, my perception has changed. In reality, these athletes—while still irresponsible—weren’t adequately prepared for life as a college student. They were primed for the athletic component of college, but not for the most important part: academics.

Whether it’s due to the shift in national education standards or a push for quality student athletes, it looks like last year someone at the National Collegiate Athletic Association finally got things on the right track.

The NCAA rocked collegiate sports and high school coaches in 2012 when it announced the new minimum GPA requirement would be raised from 2.0 to 2.3. In addition, high school students will now have to take 10 of their 16 core classes before their senior year of high school, instead of back-loading the end of their education to meet requirements.

According to ESPN.com, the upcoming 2016 class will need to meet these requirements to make NCAA eligibility. Students who don’t meet all of the requirements will count as “partial qualifiers;” they can receive a scholarship and practice with their team but must pass nine credit hours in their first college semester to get back on track. 

Essentially the NCAA is demanding that all high school student athletes take the same educational path to be eligible for sports at the Division I, II, or III levels. Colleges are finding that, by and large, collegiate athletes are showing up unprepared for the next level of education.

“The real shift is to academic preparation instead of just getting eligible,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic affairs, in the 2012 ESPN article.

Under these new regulations, the NCAA found that 43.1 percent of basketball players, 35.2 percent of football players, and 15.3 percent of all other athletes enrolled in the 2009-2010 freshman class wouldn’t have been eligible to play.

Of course, some sports fans were unhappy about the GPA bump. They argued that the regulations were too strict and would prevent some worthy athletes from being able to attend college.

Since the advent of this decision one year ago, there have been several questions raised. For instance, how can you legislate academic preparedness? Is it the athletes’ fault for not making the grades? Or is there a discrepancy between high school and secondary education curriculum? From my place on the bench, there seem to be a conflux of issues at play here. 

First and foremost, while these regulations will help weed out some talent, coaches will undoubtedly find a way around the rules (just like they did with the last set of rules) to ensure that certain student athletes make it on to their campuses. Secondly, it would be wise of colleges to align their curriculum and regulations more fluidly for incoming high school students; earning a C from an inner-city school is a lot different from earning a C from a suburban-area school.

However, the biggest question I have in all of this is why are people so upset that we’re asking more from athletes? In reality, the fact that the GPA requirement remains at a 2.3 for college is ridiculous. That GPA only requires a student to show up, breathe, and maybe participate. We, as a national athletic community, are allowing students to achieve the bare minimum in their education so they can play a sport.

Now don’t misunderstand me—athletics provide unique and wonderful experiences for kids all over the nation. But it seems to me that athletes (mainly those from football, baseball, and basketball) are more focused on getting attention as potential professional players than on their education.

This has misconstrued the purpose of athletic scholarships, which in actuality are ways for athletes to play the sports they love while getting educated for the future.

While the new NCAA regulations are more stringent than some would like, student athletes and coaches will have to make the adjustments or simply not be eligible for opportunities. To me, 75 percent of being an athlete is about being a dedicated and responsible student. That’s why they’re called student-athletes; they must fit both roles. Coaches and schools not setting the bar high enough for athletes don’t do them any favors. For athletes to be prepared, coaches and schools have to set aside their records and CIF-championship mongering for the benefit of their players.

The bottom line is the bar has to be set higher for athletes. Student athletes’ GPAs should be taken just as seriously as other students. Call me crazy, but is asking for a 3.0 too much?

Along with that, athletes need to be more invested in their education. As someone who had to fight for financial aid in college (like most everyone else), it irritates me to no end that a lot of athletes are receiving free rides on 2.0s. These athletes are wasting a tremendous gift that many kids out there would be ecstatic to receive.

Coaches and high schools also need to step it up for these athletes. I cannot tell you how many athletes I speak to who have never heard of the NCAA requirements, and yet they want to play in college. The only way I found out about the requirements was from attending a private conference; none of my high school coaches cared to share this information with me.

Some athletes who are being scouted get to their junior or senior years, only to find out that they’re not eligible. Athletes need to have the NCAA information sooner so they aren’t scrambling to take all of their core courses to meet the requirements. Athletic departments should organize NCAA informational sessions for athletes and parents during their freshman or sophomore years so they know ahead of time what they need to do to meet their goals. This could potentially eliminate issues with academic preparation and missed opportunities.

College sports are wonderful avenues and worthy goals for students across the nation, but coaches, schools, and colleges need to demand higher standards of athletes and educate them on what they need to do to be prepared. In a perfect world, athletes would invest as much time in their education as they do their sport—you are a student first and an athlete second. To the rest of you sports fans out there, what the NCAA is asking for is nothing crazy or unattainable, just responsible, prepared athletes who are worthy of the scholarships they are receiving.

But what do I know? I’m just a Benchwarmer—and a former collegiate athlete who graduated with a 3.8 GPA.

 

Staff Writer Kristina Sewell says make the grade. Contact her at ksewell@santamariasun.com.