Leveling the Playing Field: A look at campus resources given to student athletes

by Chelsea Hunter, photos by Jamie Duke

 As a red-shirt senior, Taryn Rose knows what it takes to be a successful student athlete, and it’s no cakewalk. This defender balances classes, practice, studying, traveling and exams while working part-time.  “At the beginning it was hard because you just want to focus on soccer,” Rose said. “But it was a quick realization that education really matters and that’s why you’re here at Utah State. My coach does a really good job of reinforcing that.”

Student athletes at USU are given access to an exclusive study center and  computer lab, plus tutors and mentors to help them keep up. The majority of the third floor of the Jim and Carol Laub Athletic-Academics Complex at the north end zone of Romney Stadium is dedicated to their academic needs.

To other students this may appear to be special treatment, and how is that fair? Many students have demanding schedules — full-time school, full-time jobs and extracurricular activities such as student government or ROTC — but no one is there to make sure they get everything done. No one arranges tutors and study halls for them. No one reserves private rooms to help them focus.

English professor Dustin Crawford admits he struggled with the idea that student athletes get so much help to be successful academically when any student would benefit from those resources. However, he said, “I don’t know if it’s necessarily as advantageous when you factor in the class they miss and the time they spend on their athletics outside of class.”

“The athletes have a very difficult, rigid schedule,” said math academic adviser, Linda Skabelund.  “We have to be careful so that we can accommodate them because of their practice schedule and things like that. We work very hard to make sure they’re accommodated.” Adviser accommodation from advisers refers to specially organized schedules to allow time for students’ commitments as athletes. Still, Skabelund said she holds them to the same requirements as other students.

It takes a special kind of person to be successful as a student and an athlete. “At some point you have to realize that you’re an athlete and that’s your job,” Rose said. “So you have to make time for the job and your school life.” But she swears the best part about being an athlete at Utah State is that she is given access to so many resources.

On the other hand, even if you’re not a student athlete, there’s still an amazing amount of help you can get on campus, said macroeconomics professor Randy Simmons. Between the two classes he currently teaches, he has five teaching assistants who work a combined total of 20 office hours a week. He said if students can’t come in and get the tutoring they need, it’s their own fault.

In his 34 years teaching at USU, Simmons has seen the resources available to student athletes and noted that some don’t use what is given to them. “I actually don’t have a lot of patience for an athlete that doesn’t show up or does poorly because they are given so much help, if they’ll use it,” he said.

Sophomore football player Eric Berntson recognizes the resources given to student athletes. “We do get special treatment,” he said. “We get tutors, we get resources, we have a lab we can go to so we don’t have to go to the library and fight for a spot. We have a facility where we can just go, so I guess we do get special treatment as far as resources go, but I have never gotten special treatment from a professor.”

In order to be eligible to play each week, athletes must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, according to NCAA standards. They also need to progress to a certain point in their classes each year. Senior associate athletic director Brian Evans said they need to be 40 percent complete with their degree entering their third year, 60 percent by their fourth year, and 80 percent complete entering their fifth year. Once they’ve declared a major, they must work toward that degree. If they take course work that’s not within their of degree program, they lose eligibility.

Some teams set higher GPA goals than the NCAA requirement. For example, the soccer team made a goal to reach a 3.4 GPA and the football team has a goal to stay above a 3.0.  Rose said if they achieve their goal GPA, they celebrate with a banquet recognizing the athletes for performing well both on the team and in the classroom.

Ultimately, students don’t realize the time and commitment that student athletes are putting in day to day, said Evans. “It’s not special treatment,” he said. “It’s more of creating a leveler playing field for them to compete in the classroom with their non-athlete counterparts.” Evans spoke of a team that is in the weight room at 5:45 every morning. Then, they go to class and have two to three hours of practice later that day. After all that, they are physically and mentally exhausted, he said. “When you open a book and you try to read a chapter and try to comprehend it when you’re mentally and physically tired, it is very difficult,” said Evans.

Like every student, athletes face a constant balancing act. They have demands and pressures each day. “Our student athletes are students, and should be students first and foremost,” said Evans. “They just have a particular talent that allows them to be able to go on to the field or the court or track and compete at a high level, and hopefully provide their fellow students and fans in the area a good game experience.”

Admittedly, Rose understands it may appear that the athletes are given special treatment, but with everything they are expected to juggle, she said it’s all they can do to make it through. “Our time is very much scheduled by athletics instead of scheduled on our own time,” she said. “I don’t think, personally, that we get handed a lot of stuff, but we are grateful for what we are given.”

 

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