Print Edition: April 10, 2013
All of us—okay most of us—have lives outside our formal academic studies, but there are student athletes at UFV trying to fulfill academic requirements while carving out time for the practices, weight training sessions and personal workouts—not to mention the many road trips and games—required to be on a varsity athletic team.
In the United States college scene, some sports (like football) can be huge money-makers for the university. (Did I mention football?) Because of this, schools can be tempted to care more about their athletes as athletes, rather than as students. In addition, since some U.S. collegiate sports are the main stepping stones to a professional and well-paid career, some athletes might wonder why it should matter so much that they complete their degrees when their main dream is in athletics and not academics.
As a result, the NCAA (think the American version of our CIS), advertises a “graduation rate” for each NCAA school and even for each NCAA sport. They claim that across the U.S., student athletes have a 66 per cent graduation rate. Closer to home, the University of Washington has a 75 per cent graduation rate. That seems pretty impressive considering the hyped-up world of collegiate sports across the line. One could even argue that athletes in the U.S. are doing far better than the average bachelor degree student who, according to a 2009 NY Times article, has only about a 50 per cent likelihood of graduating within six years. Things are somewhat better north of the 49th parallel with Queen’s University advertising a completion rate of 92.2 per cent in 2012, but also noting a pretty impressive average of 81 per cent for the whole of Ontario. Unfortunately, BC appears to be less forthcoming about its graduation rates.
The NCAA has a huge program in place to hold universities accountable not only to help student athletes to be academically successful each year but to ensure that they are moving closer to graduation. If the university does not comply with these standards, they can lose their right to offer a certain level of scholarships or even to be banned from participating for a period of time. In Canada, no athlete is required to do anything more than pass the minimum number of credit hours per year (18) and maintain the minimum GPA. It does not matter what courses they are taking or even if they ever declare a major. There has been a long-standing joke about several Canadian universities whose athletes were apparently enrolled in such “challenging” courses as “Basket-weaving 101” — my apologies to all you basket-weavers out there.
It is interesting then that no one in Canada—except maybe UFV’s own Sasa Plavsic (see below)—seems to be asking any questions about what percentage of Canadian student athletes will ever graduate in the programs that they are purportedly pursuing. This seems especially puzzling since no varsity sport at any Canadian university brings in more money than it costs to run that program. If we are essentially subsidizing all of these sports teams, shouldn’t we be asking more questions about what is going on academically? One would think that Canada would take the high ground and say, “We believe that our athletes are students first – eh?”
Without any hard data available from the CIS website, we had to do our own informal research based upon the experience of several of our own UFV Cascade athletes.
First we caught up with Kyle Leinweber, who played volleyball until 2012 when he quit the team due to a back injury and decided to finish his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. He stated that while on the team, “I wasn’t ever going to let school come second behind volleyball.” When asked about his observation of the players he spiked alongside, he felt that most had graduated at the end of their term, though it may have taken longer than the usual four years. He described the huge practice and team commitments of up to four hours a day, which obviously had to be balanced with schoolwork.
Another athlete, Sasa Plavsic, is a kinesiology major who played on the UFV men’s soccer team for three years and has done a major academic project exploring this question and proposing a study to find out about the graduation rates of athletes at several BC universities. From his own observations, he evidenced a slightly less optimistic perspective as he noted that quite a number of athletes failed to return to school during the years he was on the team. He explained why this is not that surprising because of the huge challenges that athletes face with practices and game preparation and even the emotional challenges of trying to focus on schoolwork after a bad game. But in his final comment, he noted that there is an upside as well.
“Well I would say I came to university solely for the sports, and I walked out more of an academic than athlete,” he said. “So I would say it opens up an opportunity for academic success for people who might not normally go to school.”
Maybe it’s time for the CIS to come clean and tell us what is really happening. If not, we’ll have to wait for Sasa to do his study. I’m putting my money on Sasa being the first to step up.