The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.Plato
The athletes that compete during their collegiate career have one synonymous trait that supersedes sports: they are students first. This version of the modern gladiator recognizes that excelling in an arena isn’t the priority. These “student athletes” can be found in classrooms or learning centers getting help to advance their educational goal of earning a degree. Because sports has become a mainstream part of society, universities earn reputations as a “football” school, implying the focus is less on academics and more on athletics. Ivy Leagues are rarely considered “sporty” schools and are known for the doctors and scientists they produce, not their All-Americans. This image is slowly evolving. More student athletes are graduating than ever before, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and they hope it’s a trend to stay.
As schools gain notoriety for their success on the field, other areas of their program become exposed. Over the last decade, it was glaringly obvious to NCAA officials, as well as universities, that their football and men’s basketball programs were not graduating enough students. The top programs had kids leave to play professionally before earning a degree. The NCAA uses the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Academic Progress Rate (APR) to measure how a school and its teams are doing in regards to their studies. If a school doesn’t measure up, the consequences could affect the future of a team. According to a 2013 study, Oklahoma had a GSR of 47 and an APR of 960. Coach Bob Stoops might know his X’s and O’s, but he didn’t know how to keep his guys in the classroom. Compare the Sooners to the Wildcats of Northwestern, who in 2013 had a GSR of 97 and APR of 996.
Ivy Leagues are rarely considered “sporty” schools and are known for the doctors and scientists they produce, not their All-Americans.
Breaking the stigma of being one type of school or another is changing. In the fall of 2013, the University of Notre Dame ranked first among all NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools. What’s more impressive is their overall success rate of their programs. According to their website, the Fighting Irish had 20 of 22 teams with graduation rates of 100 percent.
Senior Greg Andrews plays tennis at Notre Dame and sees his athletic career as a piece of his future, and builds from his overall experience. “The NCAA has a slogan that ‘most of us will go pro in something other than sports,’ and I think that hits the nail on the head. I think the emphasis is on academics; it’s not an afterthought. We need to be successful after athletics and you need academics to do it.”
Andrews is majoring in accounting and has found that time management has been the key to his success in the classroom and on the court. “I didn’t allow myself to waste time watching an hour of TV. If I did that, I didn’t do my job that day. I think it made me more disciplined and made me study when I had the time and not mess around the entire day.”
I didn’t allow myself to waste time watching an hour of TV.
The focus of building a strong athletic program has many roots. One of the strongest is revenue. Universities that can represent on the field gain national attention. Fans buy tickets, merchandise is sold, and alumni donate to build better facilities, all to enhance their image. They invest in their program. The more appealing the school is to those looking at higher education, the more likely they are to go through the application process. Big sports can bring big money to sustain a college. Some athletic departments set aside money earned to donate back to the school, for facilities or academic scholarships. The financial aid helps the institution and shows harmony between sports and studies.
Academics definitely comes first at UVa. That’s the way the university sees it, and they try to get the athletes to appreciate that, and we do take it seriously.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tries to respect the academic standards set for students and has established a non-compete rule during exam periods. For this reason, the ACC lacrosse tournament is played prior to other conference competitions and does not interfere with finals or the NCAA tournament.
Owen Van Arsdale is a third-year at The University of Virginia and plays attack for the men’s lacrosse team. The commerce major learned early the standards of being a student athlete. “Academics definitely comes first at UVa. That’s the way the university sees it, and they try to get the athletes to appreciate that, and we do take it seriously.”
Virginia has a 93 percent graduation rate, but more impressive is that 16 out of 23 teams are ranked in the top twenty of their respective sport, twelve of them in the top ten. Men’s basketball finished third in the Associated Press and baseball is first in all four of their polls.
Van Arsdale doesn’t feel academic pressure from his teammates—their goal is to win and keep playing the sport they love. “It’s more about pushing each other on the field than in the classroom, but knowing you need to get the classroom done so you can come out and have the privilege to play for our team.”
…knowing you need to get the classroom done so you can come out and have the privilege to play for our team.
The student athlete represents the importance for modern gladiators to be successful, both physically and mentally.
At the time of this article, the UVa men’s lacrosse team is ranked 7th in the nation and Notre Dame’s men’s tennis is ranked 14th.