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Athletes hit the books before the hardwood

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By Dana Mate
Collegiate Staff Writer

Winning at sports and educating the sportsman should not be mutually exclusive.

It’s not surprising in a society where professional athletes earn more than educators that college athletes are commended for stats before they are commended for scholastics. Although both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) have academic requirements for its athletes, the bulk of a college athlete’s workload is committed to the game.

“I get out of practice and I just want to relax,” Jason Pratt said. “I’m so tired and even though I know I have to get it [homeowrk] done, I have a hard time motivating myself.”

Devin Brown / Collegiate

Pratt, a sophomore forward for the Raider men’s basketball team isn’t the only athlete with a need for academic guidance according to Athletic Director Doug Wabeke.

“It’s easy to see if someone needs help in the academic department,” Wabeke said. “Students involved in the athlete support programs have a better success rate.”

The Student Athlete Academic Support Program is a study table for athletes with volunteers, faculty, tutors and coaches.  Student Athlete Academic Coordinator and Assistant Football Coach Tony Kimbrough took over the program in April of 2009 and has renovated the program multiple times since then.

“Most kids don’t have a clue what is available to them when they start college,” Kimbrough said. “We’re trying to get them to take advantage of their down time. That’s the biggest hurdle the first year—time management. We give them the tools to utilize their resources and they have to go from there.”

Initially a student- run program that started with approximately ten athletes, it has developed into a faculty- run program that tracks study hours and has support from on campus faculty as well as outside volunteers, such as Grand Valley  professor Jim Grant. On campus faculty is an asset but Kimbrough adds that they can always use more help.

“Everyone is willing to help,” Kimbrough said. “ We don’t throw anyone away because we’re going to get them to that goal. This program runs year round and we have the TutorTrac so there can be no excuse for not succeeding.”

With the aid of the TutorTrac, a card reader that tracks the hours logged by every student athlete, Kimbrough hopes to see an increase in grade point averages (GPAs) of students who attend.

Devin Brown / Collegiate

The NJCAA Handbook and Casebook outlines specific GPA eligibility for athletes by semester: “From the beginning date of the term for the second full-time semester as published in the college catalog, a student-athlete must have passed 12 semester hours with a 1.75 GPA or higher.”

The NJCAA Casebook goes on to outline the requirements for a student-athlete to be eligible for the upcoming term, one of which must be satisfied for participation. “Pass a minimum of 12 semester hours with a 2.00 GPA or higher during the previous semester of full time enrollment, or pass an accumulation of semester hours equal to 12 multiplied by the number of semesters in which the student-athlete was preciously enrolled full-time with a

GPA of 2.00 of higher, or a first season participant must have passed a minimum accumulation of 24 credit hours with a 2.00 GPA or higher for the initial term of participation, regardless of previous term or other accumulation requirements, or a first or second season participant must have passed a minimum accumulation of 36 credit hours for a fall sport, 48 credit hours for a spring sport, with a 2.00 GPA or higher, regardless of previous term or other accumulation requirement.”

Student-athletes that are found academically ineligible are put on a probationary period, which consists of 16 calendar weeks and the successful completion of the credit and GPA requirements listed above, or remain ineligible for the remainder of the term and unable to participate. There are also consequences for violation or penalty of eligibility rules for the team such as probation, inability to accept honors and awards and, forfeit of games or matches.

Besides criteria for academic eligibility and probationary periods, the NJCAA states “a student must also make progress towards graduation before participation in a second season in any certified sport.”

The specifics of these criteria and support programs seem to be an attributing factor to the five-point rise in the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) report by the NCAA. According to this report, the GSR is 87 percent for female athletes and 72 percent  for male athletes. As for athletes compared to other students the GSR rate is lower for athletes then total GSR at any institution.

Despite the GSR on the rise, some coaches do not always consider it a top priority, which is why the NCAA put in place new policies to encourage coaches towards academic achievement, improving the overall success of their programs. The Academic Progress Rate (APR) initiated the first week of August 2010, is a policy designed to give academic ratings to coaches in an attempt to illustrate the importance of high GSRs.

While these policies serve to reward coaches, such as Kimbrough, who exhibit concern for the “student,” importance in “student athlete” according to the NCAA, there is no penalty for coaches who fail the APR. However there are other penalties for the school and team are put into place. Teams found in violation of eligibility rules put into place by the NJCAA face consequences such as athletic probation, unable to accept honors/awards and forfeit of games or matches.

Another factor potentially contributing to the lack of success is the middle of the week game schedule for some sports such as basketball. With games in the middle of the school week like Mondays and Wednesdays, athletes report they miss out on valuable study time, and are struggling to wake up in time for early morning classes after long bus rides home from away games.

“Sometimes my biggest challenge is off the court,” sophomore guard Quinntrai Lampkins said. “When we don’t get home from away games until 12 a.m. sometimes later, it makes it hard to get up for class at 7:45 a.m.”

Although, these are prevalent problems for student athletes, GRCC seems committed to helping its students succeed in the academic department.

“Upwards of 35-45 students transfer to four year schools,” Wabeke said. “The remainders are freshmen and we want to keep them academically eligible. We transfer out more kids than any other school in the state, that can’t be overlooked.”

The number of student athletes at GRCC is large but the motivation to play here is the real overwhelming fact. Athletes come for many reasons but there are two that seem to be prevalent in Wabeke’s opinion.

“Students come here because they are prepared to play at the college level but not perform academically, or because they can get the grades but aren’t ready for college ball. Our goal is to prepare them academically and athletically, and in the process make them stronger for the rest of their education,” Wabeke said.