Do Division I Athletes Get the Academics They Deserve?

Everyone dreams of playing big-time college sports. In these fantasies, we are always throwing the game-winning touchdown pass or hitting the go-ahead three-pointer with no time left on the clock. Conspicuously absent from our daydreams are the countless hours spent in the classroom or doing homework.

Basically, fans forget about the student part of Division I college sports and, unfortunately for student-athletes, the schools do too despite professing otherwise.

A recent study published in the Journal of High Education found that major college sports are so competitive that the entire university culture is organized around the success of its athletic programs and consequently student-athletes fall behind in the classroom.

Division I college sports actions speak louder than words

Every Division I university claims to prioritize academics for its student-athletes, but there’s not a lot of evidence to back up these statements. First of all, Division I student-athletes, who are supposedly provided with extra academic support and tutoring, have a graduation rate 18 percent less than non-athletes, according to the University of South Carolina’s Collegiate Sports Research Institute. Clearly, student-athletes do not have the same academic success of their peers.

The study contends that the time commitment required to play major college football or basketball, roughly 40 hours per week plus travel time, makes it very difficult for student-athletes to balance their studies with their grueling athletic schedule.

In order to accomplish both, many student-athletes end up having less than demanding academic expectations and, in some cases, are buoyed by systematic academic fraud. A few years back, the University of North Carolina resorted to creating fake classes with guaranteed good grades in order to ensure that its student-athletes, some of whom allegedly read below a third-grade else, stayed eligible for sports. Now does that sound like a university that emphasizes the importance of academics?

The graduation and literacy rates are bad, but the optics of campus construction might be even worse. Universities literally erect monuments in the form of state-of-the-art facilities to their athletic departments, but have the gall to say that academics are the No. 1 priority.

Academics must always trump athletics

By saying one thing and doing another, these universities are only hurting student-athletes. Since only about one percent to two percent of collegiate student-athletes make the pros, what happens to the other 98 or 99 percent of them, especially the large number who never receive a diploma?

Without an education, these neglected student-athletes will make significantly less in their careers, have a much greater chance of being unemployed and run the risk of living in poverty.

Institutions of higher learning must have an obligation to prepare all of their students for the challenges of life and not just say it.

Major college sports are billion dollar products relying on the labor of unpaid student-athletes. Blinded by dollar signs, many Division I universities have decided to make the outcome of games more important than the pursuit of college degrees. As a result, the universities prosper while student-athletes get left behind.

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About the author
Tom Johnson