Education for the Student-Athlete is a Full Time Job

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Well, it is football season once again and here in the South that means something more than just going and witnessing a spectacle – it means that no matter where you sit in the stadium, you are part of the game!

There are no spectators in Southern football.

There are only active participants at every level of the game.

Email newsletter signup

It is so engrained in our Regional psyche that we claim only three real sports seasons – football season, recruiting season, and spring football!

And while that may seem to be an exaggeration anyone who witnesses our annual Fall Rites of Unity, for lack of a better phrase, must concede that Southern Football has the feel and the mind-set of a religious revival, Southern Style.

Then, too, we all know that the NCAA is a seditious, disruptive cabal of disgruntled Yankees who are angry because ESPN refuses to broadcast “Game Day” on any of their campuses, even though they have their own style of football – which usually necessitates very warm clothing, lots of blankets, and some human anti-freeze in their sacred containers just to stay until the final whistle.

One of our passions regarding football is making certain that those players who can keep the tradition of excellence intact are, in fact, able to do so in every realm of college football- that means staying academically “eligible.”

And believe me every one of us knows which of our opponents’ players is having academic “difficulty”.

So it behooved me to discuss the nature of contemporary college football with regard to “academic eligibility” and just how NCAA institutions are required to make certain that their student-athletes, mainly in football, not only keep their eligibility viable, but at what rates they graduate, as well.

In the late 1980’s the issue of student-athletes being “used” by colleges came to the front of the college sports scene with a vengeance.

Harry Edwards published a book in which he indicted America’s colleges and universities for using student-athletes without regard to their educational experience.

At that time, each institution was responsible for tracking their student-athletes’ academic progress by the institution’s own standards.

If they were proceeding at a rate termed “normal progress” the NCAA was happy, as were most of the fans and alums.

The problem is that “normal progress” was being defined by each institution without any standardization across the board.

What was good enough for Boise

State, for example, was too minimal for Michigan or Vanderbilt.

This fact had been verified by the “graduation rates” at those institutions.

Believe me, there were some very concerned parents who discovered that some institutions had graduation rates which were outrageously low – in some instances in single digits!

It was a national embarrassment and the NCAA decided to establish some minimum threshold benchmarks by which colleges could all measure their academic progress.

Hence, in the early 1990’s these measures were put in place for all NCAA schools – measures which would ensure the academic success of student-athletes in a more standardized fashion.

These measures included not only minimum grade point averages (GPA’s), but a minimum number of credit hours taken by student-athletes along with specific degree completion percentages.

So, at the end of the sophomore year, for example, a student-athlete should have achieved a GPA of “x.xx”, should have completed “x” number of credit hours, and should have completed “xx” percentage of credit-hours toward the chosen degree plan.

In effect, if a student-athlete stays on track with this plan, graduation is almost virtually assured.

To achieve this ambitious goal, the NCAA further mandated that each of its Division I members should have its own academic counselors to guide and assist the student-athletes in their pursuits.

The good news is that the results after more than a decade of these standards have created a new breed of football players on college campuses – graduates!

But the price in time they pay is enormous.

Not only do they have some sort of practice year-round, they must maintain a pace which includes a minimum GPA, minimum number of credit hours, and a minimum degree completion percentage at the same time.

This is far more than what is required of the band members who are on scholarship, and the graduation rates of student-athletes, in many instances, exceed that of the regular student body.

Then, too, it is difficult to find what some have called “soft majors” in which there seems to be less academic rigor these days.

Although regular students have found haven in such majors for years, it has only become an issue in recent years with the exposure of Tennessee and some of their majors.

Add to all of this the minimum entrance requirements of incoming student-athletes as prescribed by the NCAA’s Clearing House and you have an academic rigor which was absent a short decade and a half ago.

With it all, today’s student-athletes can find solace in the fact that while they work harder than the general student population, they also work longer year-round.

And if they do what is required of them, they will win both on and off the field.

Such is the nature of the Twenty First Century student-athlete!

Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at