For Student-Athletes, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect in the Classroom

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 21, 2016 at 7:55 am
For Student-Athletes, Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect in the Classroom

The recent death of University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summit prompted a flood of conversation about her legacy. In addition to an amazing winning record, one fact stood out: Every one of the student-athletes she managed during her 38 years of coaching graduated. College athletics are a big business and garner lots of attention for schools, but too often studying and earning a degree fall by the wayside for busy athletes.

Now several conferences in the National Collegiate Athletic Association are agreeing to new rules for college athletes designed to lessen their time constraints created by their sports. “The purpose of the changes is to rebalance the student experience between athletics and campus life, providing students with more time to focus on other college interests, including academics, work experience, travel, and additional rest,” says a statement from the Southeastern Conference. The SEC, which includes the University of Tennessee, is one of five conferences that have agreed to the changes in principal without the specifics being worked out yet.

The agreement impacts time commitments at the end of season, in the offseason, and during the season. Breaks with no athletic expectations are included, as well as off-hours each day. Twenty-one extra days off, called Flex 21, will be in addition to the rules currently in place. Recognizing the differences in travel and training between sports, coaches and teams will be responsible for putting together their own specific plans.

Student-athletes already have restrictions

The NCAA has a limit on how many hours student-athletes can practice each week—20—and how many days they should have off. These guidelines haven’t always been followed, and critics say some athletes practice 40 hours a week. That’s in addition to games or travel, along with the coursework students should be doing.

Athletes and organizations say the benefits of college sports participation outweigh any complaints. A 2008 NCAA Convention presentation quotes a Division 1 swimmer extolling the virtues of her busy life. At the same time, athletes surveyed report staggering hours devoted to their sports. There’s a range of hours, depending on division and sports, with baseball, football and golf topping the list for men. For women, basketball, softball and volleyball require the most athletic hours.

The conferences reaching the time agreement are the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC-12, and ACC. Together they represent a large segment of the 460,000 college athletes. A survey of more than 44,000 Division 1 student athletes brought the issue of time to the forefront of conversations. Students and coaches agreed on a need for fewer competitions during exam periods, days off during the week, and a break at the end of the season.

College athletics must not come at a cost of the academic portion of higher education. Honestly evaluating the time student athletes spend is the only way to find solutions for them to better balance the different aspects of their lives. The revised time rules being implemented by these five divisions are a step.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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