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An Underreported Benefit of Being a College Athlete

When discussing college athletics and academics usually the talk centers on low graduation rates and corruption.  One of the many underreported benefits for college student-athletes are the incredible amount of academic resources available to student athletes who have the drive to use them to their full advantage.

A great example of the resources of available is the story of Ole Miss Offensive Tackle Michael Oher.  Oher’s recruitment and struggle to gain eligibility were chronicled by Michael Lewis in the best seller Blind Side.  Even when he finally gained eligibility most assumed he would make little progress towards a degree and leave school early for the NFL.

Not only did he put off likely millions the NFL last spring to return for his senior season, but he is now on the verge of graduation. The LA Daily News recently discussed the emergence of well funded academic support for student athletes around the country.

I haven’t struggled a bit in college,” the standout offensive lineman says. “It’s been a breeze.”

It’s a tribute to Oher’s determination and character, but his story also says something about the state of big-time college athletics.

As many college athletes do, Oher got not only tutoring help but a full range of academic support services throughout his years at Ole Miss. Fourteen full-time staffers on campus line up tutors for student athletes, help them choose classes, monitor their study and check attendance. Athletes at Ole Miss averaged about 1,000 tutoring sessions a week this fall.

Such services are not unusual. The last five years have seen an astounding jump in the time, money and resources spent on academic support for student athletes. Tougher regulations instituted by the NCAA now punish schools for poor academic performance, fueling a spending binge with private and public funds on tutorial staff and athletes-only facilities filled with study rooms and computer labs.

The developments have been hailed by the NCAA, but faculty members are disturbed by what they see as a shift that puts athletes ahead of other students.

Before the first kickoff this season, The Associated Press began a survey of the 65 schools from the six major conferences involved in the Bowl Championship Series, as well as independent Notre Dame. The AP obtained at least some data from 45 schools about the resources they spend on getting athletes graduated.

The picture formed by the data is one of schools frequently spending more than $1 million annually on academic support for athletes, and some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more in 2008 than they did in 2004, the AP found. Eight BCS schools reported spending increases of more than 70 percent in the last five years. Four increased spending by more than 100 percent.

Helping athletes graduate has become a profession with an organization whose membership has nearly doubled in two years.

About the author
Aaron Sorenson