Monday, February 18, 2013

Student Athletics as Moral Endeavor II

Part II

The first promise singles out the college’s commitment to the student. This promise takes on special urgency because often the student may only be 16 to 18 when they make the commitment. When the student athlete is the first person in their family to go to college, the college’s promise, made by the coach, to get them an education and not just a chance to play sports or become a professional athlete takes on a unique and powerful moral imperative.

The university’s obligation is doubly important because if the student athlete does not leave with a credible degree, while they will have had a marvelous four years doing what they love, but at the age of 22, their athletic career will be over and their adult life will begin. The college promises more than learning athletics, it promises learning what skills the college can offer to prepare for adult life.

If the university does not meet this promise, then the university simply exploits the passion and promise of the student athletes. In this the commentators are correct, the university must provide strong academic support for the student athletes to succeed on this onerous path.

We need to remember that colleges make these promises to any student they accept. In the case of student athletes the college requires them to compete as a condition of acceptance. The college can provide this support through regular college programs or athletic specific programs, but the school has this obligation. The college’s promise requires the university to provide several critical dimensions of support.
1)                    Coaching and personnel for training and medical care to support athletic development and achievement.
2)                   Academic and personal support to learn in the academic context and develop a personal identity beyond being an athlete.
3)                   College support requires multiple levels of resources:
1)   Five years of support to graduate plus strong summer school support. Huge numbers of regular college students now take 5-6 years to graduate. The sheer time and energy demands on college athletes means the student athletes need the extra time and summer support to have a good chance to graduate.
2)   Personnel to work with the student to ensure that he or she understands the complicated NCAA graduation progress requirements. This advice moves the student on a trajectory towards graduation but also keeps them eligible. To be honest in the early years of college, many student athletes identify primarily as athletes and getting them to study will be driven as much by their desire to stay eligible as to develop as an academic student.
3)    Help for students to navigate the tensions of taking exams and getting assignments in and working with professors when athletes must travel as part of their scholarship obligations. More than a few professors resent athletic travel interference with classroom academics, and student athletes need academic support needs to bridge the tensions.
4)  Tutoring and study tables will help students stay up with academics while spending 30-40 hours a week on athletics. Learning academically and athletically can be harsh and hard. The reality is most student athletes, even the best students, struggle during the first two years of college trying to balance this. Honestly very few freshmen, period, are truly ready for the academic demands of college life. This support bridges the critical first two years.
5)    This academic support is absolutely necessary when dealing with the athletes recruited from disadvantages backgrounds. Often student athletes from wretched urban or rural school systems need tutorial support and academic incentives to recover and stay on track as they struggle to catch up to the skills levels needed to be a self sustaining college student. Without this compensatory support at the beginning, disadvantaged student athletes will fail.

Many colleges fail student athletes at this academic nexus. College athletics becomes exploitation if schools do not support academic learning along with the athletic learning. Especially at the second level of division 1 and division 2, athletes do not get the academic support they need during the first two years. The NCAA and conferences are fighting to and must continue to push and incentivize colleges to provide academic support to address the reality of student life.

You see this failure manifest when the NCAA votes down regulations that would provide more academic and financial support for student athletes. The class based votes of the NCAA where mid-majors and lower level D1 schools vote against paying true cost of attendance or against academic reforms to avoid the costs demonstrates this moral failure.

Many NCAA officials believe that if schools are going to enjoy the benefits of intercollegiate athletics and exposure, especially those that involve recruiting underserved minority students, schools have the moral obligation to invest in the academic support required by the promise to provide the resource support for persons to flourish as students and athletes.

The pressure on this issue must never falter. Schools will funnel new resources into salaries and facilities, but it must also go to academic support. Conferences should be pushing this as a condition of membership. One of the real benefits of the new penalties for low graduation rates is that it forces schools to either recruit better prepared students or invest in better academic support for students.

In the end, however, the reality of the success or failure of the enterprise rests with the young man or woman who make the promise and face their possibilities as students of athletics, academics and life.

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