The commitment to playing a sport full-time on the collegiate level is one that requires the student-athlete sometimes to place their priorities in such a way that they are seen more as athlete-students. However, many schools that have made names for themselves academically have recently been able to take their classroom success and transfer it to the playing field. Student-athletes at Temple, on the other hand, have paled in comparison when it comes to crossing over.
Most schools that have tough academic curriculums aren’t often blessed with successful athletic programs, especially in the big four sports (basketball, football, baseball and hockey), and vice versa. A few schools recently have managed to shift the scale to a perfect balance.
Although it’s still early in the college football season, Vanderbilt is off to a surprising 4-0 start, already matching its win total from the past two seasons combined. Vandy’s results in the 2004 NCAA Graduation-Rates Report, based on a four-class rate, boasted an 84 percent graduation rate for all of its students and 78 percent for student-athletes.
Vanderbilt’s football team has a graduation rate of 88 percent and currently finds itself tied for first in the Southeastern Conference East Division standings with two nationally ranked teams, No. 5 Florida and No. 7 Georgia, and ahead of another, No. 10 Tennessee. Not one of the nationally ranked teams graduates more than 55 percent of its student-athletes.
Rice University, in Houston, has also enjoyed recent success in the college baseball world. Last season the other Owls fell four outs short of the 2005 College World Series but had a graduation rate of 90 percent for all its students and 80 percent for its student-athletes.
Atlantic Ten Conference foe Saint Joseph’s University has recently established itself as a force in college basketball. The Hawks, who owned a 30-2 overall record in 2003-04, ended in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Last year St. Joe’s posted a 24-12 record and an appearance in the NIT Championship game. But the most notable totals in St. Joe’s athletics are its graduation rate of 80 percent of its student-athletes, with basketball players graduating at a 70-percent clip.
Student-athletes often get a bad rap. Not too many people understand just how strenuous and hectic the lifestyle can be. It’s hard enough being a full-time student, dealing with the expectations and demands of anywhere from four to six different professors at a time, all of whom consider their class to be the most important thing in a student’s life.
Toss in four reasonably large reading assignments, one to two writing assignments and the time it takes to study for one exam per class, and you get a recipe that takes more hours to bake than the average 168-hour week can handle.
Now throw in another group of three to eight teachers (some people like to call them “coaches”) with a set of equally if not higher expectations and demands than the professors, then knowing the ins and outs of the playbook, time for practice, regularly scheduled weight lifting sessions and games, a student-athlete’s ability to bring their best effort becomes more difficult.
With all of this in mind, one could easily envision this loaded freight to be a burden and eventually lead to less than sub-par results in at least one of the respective areas.
Schools that manage to succeed both academically and athletically face compromising situations that many other schools wouldn’t ordinarily have to encounter.
Schools such as Duke and Notre Dame have lengthy histories of success on the field of play, and their graduation rates speak for themselves. Duke has a graduation rate of 93 percent for all students and a rate of 90 percent for student-athletes, while Notre Dame has a rate of 94 percent for all students and 87 percent for student-athletes.
But winning has become such an expectation at these schools that when the teams fall short in the classroom, murmurs of altering curriculum to attract better athletes can be heard all the way to the playing field.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.