Decoding the Business of College Sports: Academics Over Athletics

Being a student athlete is about more than physical excellence but academic achievement as well

NFL player Alterraun Verner receiving his college degree

 

Curtis Hollomon, Director of Leadership Development with the NCAA Student-Athlete Affairs Department helps athletic programs around the country do just that. One role that his office has is facilitating the development of curriculum to address challenges that student athletes face. This could be anything from adjusting to living away from home, to balancing finances. But at the base of all this, he says, are values, behavior and integrity. He has students to identify their values and then holds them accountable. “You have these values, now what is your behavior,” he says. “Does your behavior and values align?”

According to Hollomon, this foundation helps players get through not only college, but post graduation life as well. “As you get challenged as an employee, as you’re no longer the superstar, as you have to follow instead of lead,” says Hollomon, “Your values are going to be the things that guide you, your actions and your mentality as you go.”

Even so, Bridge’s relationship to his campus as a collegiate athlete is not lost on him. “The thing about it is, it’s like your job,” he says. “You get free education to perform on the football field.”

Verner echoes that assertion saying that in college he spent about 35 hours a week on football-related work and another 30 on school. At that time, he says, students were required to spend no more than 28 hours a week on sports. Similarly, Bridge says he invests about six hours a day into schoolwork and another six into football.

Eric A. Wood, Associate Athletic Director of Student Athlete Development at the University of Arkansas admits that students put in way more hours than required. “We’ve got the 20 hours that are regulated by our compliance office and our coaches,” he says. “But at this level the students know that they’ve got to do even more than that on their own time to compete.”

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And it’s not just sports and athletics that take up students’ time. Wood says first year students have mandatory tutoring, team study halls in addition to community service and leadership councils and then, of course, classes and practice. “This can all happen to a student athlete in a day,” he says.

Wood also notes, however, that his students seem to thrive under the pressure. “Our student athletes graduate at a higher rate than the normal student population on most campuses,” he adds.

The NCAA has been making efforts to improve graduation rates, particularly for Black male students. A 2010 NCAA report showed an eight percent increase in graduation rates among Black males in 2003 compared to Black males from 1995 (the first year this data was collected), jumping from 51 to 59 percent. Though the numbers are still well below the overall graduation rate for student athletes in 2003, which was 79 percent, Gail Dent, a spokesperson for the NCAA says they are encouraging. “The [word] ‘student’ is there first in front of the word ‘athlete’,” she says.

Bridge couldn’t agree more.

“To me school comes first so before I start to put in that extra work on the football field, I want to make sure that all my school work is done,” he says. “That’s my first priority to get my education, my degree at the end of the day ‘cause that’s something that no one can ever take away from me.”

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