Athletes Are Students First
Universities Are Taking The Term "Student-Athlete" Seriously
By NATALIE MEISLER
When a basketball team's stay on the
road is unexpectedly extended for
more than two weeks, calling
home for clean laundry might seem like a
top priority. In Seton Hall University's case
last March, an urgent phone call was placed
from the second-round championship win
in Tbcson, Arizona, to the school's home in
New Jersey requesting another academic tutor.
For "The Hall," the layover in Tucson en
route to the West regional in Denver meant
quality time in study hall. Lest anyone forget the "student" part of the student-athlete
byword established by the NCAA, the Pirates spent two hours-a-day with their tutors
The payback to the academic counseling
department came when part of the tournament revenue was funneled into another
full-time academic position.
For years, college administrators and athletics departments paid lip service to the
term "student-athlete." Horror stories emerged about athletes who made it through
four years of college despite functional illiteracy. Now administrators are paying more
than lip service. Academic support programs are becoming a budgetary priority.
"The presidents have passed the word to
the athletics directors to emphasize academics," said University of Colorado President
E. Gordon Gee, one of many presidents at
the forefront of boosting the academic quality of life for athletes.
"It is time for colleges and universities
throughout the nation to remember that all
athletes are students first," Gee wrote in
The NCAA News. "Only then can we instill
a competitive spirit in its proper context."
His coaches get the message. A promising freshman tailback was held out of
Colorado's spring game for missing a study
table. The message from football coach Bill
McCartney: "If you're not going to be a student, don't bother showing up as an athlete."
Around the country, classroom and study
table attendance receive the same mandatory status as punctuality for team practice.
At the University of Nebraska in Lincoln,
football coach Tom Osborne would not play
Colorado president E. Gordon Gee and
many other university leaders are serious
about emphasizing academics as the top
in the 1983 Kickoff Classic unless the university agreed to put the entire $600,000
payment towards an academic facility to
benefit all the department's student-athletes.
Private contributions matched the Kickoff
Classic proceeds and another expansion to
the facility was scheduled for completion
December 1. Cornhusker student-athletes
have a computer laboratory, a vast tutorial
staff and their own career counselor.
"We treat all athletes the same, it doesn't
matter if he or she is on scholarship or a
walk-on," said Dr. Roger Grooters, Nebraska's director of academic programs.
"We have 600 student-athletes here; we're
larger than some of our academic departments."
With the national controversy over the admission of Proposition 48 athletes who fall
below minimum grade point or college
board standards, an intensified effort has
focused on helping the student-athlete without adequate high school academic preparation.
Seton Hall's Anthony Avent was a casein-point during the West regional. The
sophomore forward came off the bench to
lead the Pirates to an upset over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Avent, from
Newark, New Jersey, sat out the previous
season because of Proposition 48. When
Avent was mobbed by reporters after the
game, Seton Hall academic advisor Robin
Cunningham spread the word that Avent
made the Dean's list as a freshman.
"I wasn't only playing hard for myself
and Seton Hall but for all the guys in Newark," Avent said. "There are little kids who
look up at role models. You have to let them
know it can be done."
Cunningham was the first woman to earn
an athletics scholarship at Seton Hall,
lettering in three sports. She runs a tough
program for all of Seton Hall's student-
athletes, recognizing the school's recruiting
base comes from inner-city areas such as
Avent's prep experience in Newark.
"All the "D" student lacks is discipline in
academics," Cunningham said. "They have
the discipline in athletics, but have no idea
how to make good decisions in academics.
You give them a disciplined teaching structure and they can make good decisions.
"It is time for colleges and
universities throughout the nation
to remember that all athletes are
students first...Only then can we
instill a competitive spirit in its
— Colorado President
E. Gordon Gee
"I don't blame the kids when they first
come here. They just weren't prepared in
high school. When they were young the
teachers and coaches didn't steer them into
Seton Hall is a private institution with a
little more than 8,000 students. Regardless
of academic backgrounds, freshmen student-athletes are quickly indoctrinated in
the academic rigors of college at large state
universities where all students can easily
get lost in the numbers.
The University of Missouri, Columbia,
with an enrollment of more than 23,000,
immerses each incoming student-athlete in
the "Total Person Program." Every fresh-