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NCAA Athletics: Putting The "Student" In Student-Athlete

People often cling to the "dumb-jock" stereotype and assume there is no "student" in the term "student-athlete."

However, most people would be surprised to know that student-athletes actually graduate at a higher rate than the general student body.

Sixty four percent of Division I student-athletes who entered college in 2003 graduated, while 63 percent of the general student body graduated.

No matter what the facts say, there will always be people who assume that student-athletes are not as successful as the average student.

"It is difficult to break, just like any kind of stereotype because people always latch on to one or two that fit that category," ASU water polo coach Todd Clapper said. "The majority of student-athletes are really working hard and doing a great job. Instead of seeing all the good things that these athletes are accomplishing, people hold onto one bad thing and it feeds the stereotype."

Similar to Clapper, ASU dive coach Mark Bradshaw also feels the negative stereotype will never be completely erased.

"I was a student-athlete myself and it was the same back then," Bradshaw said. "I don't know what you can do other than just state the facts and show that things are moving in the right direction both nationally and here at ASU. I don't put a whole lot of stock into the misconception that people have because I know otherwise."

Although stereotypes are difficult, and nearly impossible, to break, ASU is trying its best to get rid of the negative perception that often accompanies student-athletes.

"One of the things on our campus that we've done is we have implemented a scholar baller program," ASU associate athletic director Jean Boyd said. "A baller is term that young people today associate with and recognize as someone who achieves a high level in all that they do. We've tried to shift the negative stereotype and create an image of a scholar baller as a positive."

While people often look at the federal graduation rate, the NCAA has developed it's own method for calculation the success of its student-athletes.

The NCAA developed the Graduation Success Rate in an attempt to more accurately evaluate student progress.

NCAA officials believe the GSR is more accurate than the federal method because it holds schools accountable for transfer students, including midyear enrollees, and does not punish schools for transfers that leave the school in good academic standing.

The GSR, which is more applicable to student-athletes than a traditional graduation rate, says that 79 percent of student-athletes who began college in 2003 graduated.

Although ASU graduates student-athletes at a rate of three percent less than the national average, the school is still graduating student-athletes at its highest rate of all-time.

"We are making great progress," Boyd said. "We are projected to be around 79 percent next year and we expect to reach our goal of 80 percent in the next two years."

Sun Devil swimmer Hayden Thomas may only be a freshman, but he has already noticed the commitment that most of his fellow Sun Devils have in the classroom.

"I know that a lot of my friends that are student-athletes do really well in the classroom," Thomas said. "It takes a huge level of commitment to excel in both the classroom and in their sports."

For the fourth straight year, the Sun Devils increased the GSR of student-athletes. Although this is an impressive feat and a step in the right direction, the Sun Devils are still short of their 80 percent goal.

As a university the Sun Devils only graduate 76 percent of their athletes, but three ASU women's' teams, swimming and diving, tennis and volleyball, graduated 100 percent of their athletes.

Overall, the ASU women, who have a 93 percent GSR, fared better than the men, which is consistent with the national trend.

Nationally, female student-athletes posses an 87 percent GSR while males come in at 72 percent.

ASU's GSR may be below that national average, but the Sun Devils finish at or above the middle of the Pac-10 Conference in most sports.

Ten of the 21 sports at ASU were listed in the top three in the Pac-10 while 14 of 21 finished in the top five.

In addition to the GSR, the NCAA also tracks the academic progress of student athletes through the use of Academic Progress Rates.

Instituted in the 2003-2004 academic year, the APR tracks the academic progress of each student and provides a glimpse into the current academic culture of each team.

The NCAA instituted the APR as a way to hold student-athletes accountable throughout their time in college and to ultimately increase graduation rates.

If teams or schools score below 925, on the 1,000-point scale, they are subject to penalties and loss of scholarships by the NCAA.

All 21 ASU sports have exceeded the NCAA's minimum requirement in each of the past two seasons and the current scores are the highest that ASU has recorded since the student-athlete evaluation system was put in place.

The Sun Devils have not had any trouble clearing the bar set by the NCAA, as the average ASU score is 974, well above the 925 standard.

With a perfect score of 1,000 the women's tennis team led not only the school, but the Pac-10 conference as well.

Although women's tennis was the only sport to get a perfect score, several other ASU sports have made notable improvements over the past few years.

Since Herb Sendek took over the basketball team in 2006, the team's APR has increased from 843 to 972.

Just three years ago, the football team owned an APR of 905, which it has since improved to 945.

The improvements of both the football and basketball teams are certainly impressive, but nothing compares to the dramatic change that has taken place within the Sun Devil baseball program.

In the initial APR rankings, the ASU baseball team scored an 853, but the team has since improved by 113 points and now possesses a score of 966.

While the rates continue to improve, the Sun Devils are working hard to guarantee the rates continue to climb rather than hit a plateau.

"At ASU, there's been a considerable ramping up of resources and financial commitments and strategies to significantly impact the student-athlete experience, which culminates in graduation," Boyd said.

Many people think that student-athletes often get a free pass and have school easier than traditional students, but these people often do not understand the huge time constraints that student-athletes are often working under.

"As a student-athlete I definitely have a lot of time commitments because I practice two times a day," Thomas said. "It definitely makes my schedule a lot more busy, but I think at the same time it forces me to be on top of things and keep to my schedule."

The athletes are not the only ones who understand the importance of time management as the coaches also understand the pressure that these athletes are under.

"It is all about time management," Clapper said. "They have to arrange times to take tests early and things like that so sometimes they have a shorter time frame for tests and projects. It is tough when they are practicing twenty hours a week and then leaving on the weekends to go play."

Student-athletes do have a lot of time commitments because of practice and games, but they also acknowledge that they are not the only ones with extracurricular activities.

"Being an athlete may be harder than the average student, but I'm sure people that are not doing sports are doing other activities that take up just as much time," Thomas said.

Despite travel, time commitments and a lack of recognition for their academic achievements, student-athlete graduation rates continue to climb while the athletes continue to prove that there really is a "student" in student-athlete.