A few weeks ago, I was browsing through The Maize Essaize when I found an article by one of my peers titled “Why It’s Time to Redefine the Term ‘Student-Athlete’”. As a current Business Major and a player on the Varsity Tennis Team at the University of Michigan, I disagreed with most of the arguments in the blog post. I personally believe the author had a narrow perspective on the subject, so I thought of making a new blog entrance explaining my counterarguments while analyzing the matter from a student-athlete’s perspective.
I would like to start by mentioning some of the most obvious invalid points the author makes in the blog from my point of view. I believe the author falls into one of the most common logical fallacies called hasty generalization. He draws conclusions about the whole population of student athletes in Division 1 universities based on studies from a small group of football and basketball players on a couple of colleges. Whether it might be true that some athletes struggle with schoolwork and are way below the average student academic level, it doesn’t make any sense to generalize and say all student-athletes have these issues. From my perspective the author is making broad assumptions that aren’t always true, in order to prove a point. For example, he says “the entire team focused on going to class and doing work not to learn (…) but to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and stay eligible to play on Saturdays. (…) A college would be much happier with an athlete that has a C average, but makes big plays on gameday, than a player with an A average that loses the team a game.” Speaking from my personal experience, at least at the University of Michigan, student-athletes are encouraged to succeed academically just as any other regular student. We are not mediocre neither on the field or in the classroom. The athletic department realizes most of us are probably not going to end up playing our sport on a professional level, so they provide us with career fairs, networking events, tutoring hours and all sorts of activities related to academics in order to improve our experience from an educational standpoint. The fact that some student-athletes do not care about academics is not good enough evidence to support the author’s claim that all student-athletes in all Division 1 universities focus mainly on their sport and fail to keep up with other students in the classroom.
My biggest criticism to this blog post is that I perceived the author thinks student-athletes can’t be successful on and off the field. And there are many examples that prove this is certainly not true. Take President Gerald Ford for instance. He played football for the University of Michigan and then had a successful political career. Or Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who played water polo while earning a history degree at St. Andrews.
I also believe the author should have done more research and get some facts clarified before jumping to conclusions. He states coaches “encouraged their athletes to take what became known as “paper classes,” or scam classes in which students did not have to show up to class and only had to write one paper for the entire semester and then received an extremely high grade from an academic advisor”. My first reaction when reading this sentence was surprise, because academic advisors don’t grade any of our papers, quizzes or exams. Their role is to help us schedule classes, get tutoring, and make sure we are meeting all requirements prior to graduation. Also, it is important to note there is not a single class in any university that is restricted to student-athletes. I certainly agree with the author that this types of classes don’t enhance learning or improve academic skills, but other regular students take this types of classes too. The problem here is the existence of the class, not the fact that some student-athletes enroll in them.
As Madelaine Jerousek-Smith states in her article, student-athletes can be remarkable students and remarkable athletes at the same time.We learn about discipline, teamwork, commitment and stress management; all skills that are very useful in the classroom or at the workplace. I encourage people to read Julia Forster’s Honors College Thesis which studies student-athlete’s academic success and does research on specific areas such as graduation rates, after college success, in season vs out of season GPA, and male vs female student-athlete GPA. She concludes that whether it is true that some athletes (of high revenue generating sports like football or basketball mainly) struggle with college academics, other athletes have the same chances at being academically successful as any other regular student. She even finds “student-athletes graduate at a slightly higher rate than the general student body”.
That being said my dear college, I do not think that the “NCAA is the feeder program (…) for illiteracy and future poverty” like you do. I think some student-athletes do struggle with the academic aspect of college, but I also believe many others have proven to be successful in the field, in the classroom and in life.