I believe academic counselors honestly want students to graduate, but I've heard an academic counselor say he could keep a cockroach eligible for two years.
--Wayne Yates, former
Memphis State basketball coach
Athletics and academics are still searching for common ground. But one message is beginning to emerge loudly and clearly to student-athletes: University campuses are no longer roach motels.
The pressure for athletes to succeed in the classroom is growing, thanks to stiffer NCAA regulations on academic progress and a stronger desire by colleges to see athletes graduate.
Students must now show satisfactory progress toward a degree. By the fifth semester or seventh quarter, a student must average 12 credits a term in a designated major. Additionally, NCAA Bylaw 5-1-j, also known as Proposition 48, prohibits students from competing in their freshman year if they did not pass 11 core courses in high school and achieve at least a 700 on the SAT.
But NCAA regulations aside, universities are spending more time, money and resources on academic support systems to preserve academic integrity and encourage student athletes to attain degrees. Many colleges are offering counseling, tutoring, study halls and workshops. It is a high-priority item.
"We don't want our academic advisers concerned with eligibility first and academic standing second," says UCLA's Fred Stroock, assistant athletic director in charge of academics and student services. "Our main functions, in terms of all our objectives, is to make sure the student graduates. When a student comes to UCLA, we are making sure everyone is geared in the right direction."
At UCLA, more than $500,000 annually is invested in academic support services for student athletes. Stroock has four full-time staff employees and five part-time assistants.
In addition, the College of Letters and Sciences employs two full-time academic advisers who work out of the athletic department. One full-time tutorial coordinator monitors five learning specialists and 60 tutors devoted to student athletes.
Administrators such as Stroock concede that student-athletes have demanding schedules, with some devoting as much as six hours a day to their sport.
But Stroock believes the demand on the athlete is compatible with progress toward a degree.
"Because the administration puts so much time and effort and money into the system, I would say that keeps things in perspective," Stroock said. "If we didn't have that support system available, then I would say that we are demanding too much."
But some, like USC's Assistant Provost Sherry May, say not enough has been asked of the student athlete. USC is redesigning the academic support program offered to student athletes.
In the past, USC had a separate program for athletes which this fall will be incorporated into one general support unit for all students. One person will coordinate student-athlete support services. The purpose, according to May, is to provide more resources to the general student population at USC.
Says May: "It seems to me that if higher education has been at fault--and I think it has very often in relationship to the athletes--it's not because we require too much. It's because we don't challenge them enough academically. What we're trying to do with this new unit is to have resources available and to challenge the student athletes as they are challenged in terms of their sport."
Although most athletic departments provide some type of academic support system, the trend is to separate the academic advising from the athletic department.
"If we reported to the athletic director, there could be a conflict of interest," says Loyola Marymount University's Lane Bove.
Loyola does not have a separate academic support system for athletes but it monitors their academic progress.
Bove, director of the Learning Resources Center at Loyola, said student athletes have to balance athletics and academics and thinks the key is the recruiting process.
"We begin with the premise that we won't take anyone who cannot graduate given what we have at LMU," Bove says. "We feel that's a disservice to the athlete, like we're using the athlete for a year and dumping him."
Stroock said coaches at UCLA who have been most successful in recent years realize "that if they take better students academically, then those are the students who tend to perform well on the playing field and the court because they take care of business."
Pepperdine's Melissa Emerson agrees that success of academic support begins with recruiting. But she accepts the fact that some students are in college just for their athletic talents.
"I don't try to brainwash them saying that ultimately they're not here because of sports," says Emerson. "Because I know that's why they're here."
Emerson, who runs a system at Pepperdine established only a year ago, tries to monitor students with poor academic records in high school.