Athletes’ load may lighten

Two-thirds of NCAA student-athletes said their schedules produced high stress levels.

Brian Edwards

If a student-athlete is interested in joining a student group, getting an internship, studying abroad or visiting family, they need to find a way to fit it in between their academic and athletic commitments.
 
 
To help ease student-athletes’ jam-packed schedules, the National Collegiate Athletic Association proposed changes— like limiting practice hours and giving days off. Last Thursday, an NCAA committee voted 9-6 to postpone action until next year, citing the need to submit a better-rounded plan.
 
 
“There are a lot of good items in the resolution going forward,” said Ben-Marvin Egel, a student-athlete autonomy representative for the Big Ten. “But there is a lot of things that need to be looked into.”
 
 
Egel said he voted against postponing the resolutions until next year.
 
 
Student-athletes have been working with the NCAA since last year to ease time commitments and wanted leaders to take action on the proposed ideas, he said.
 
 
A study presented at the 2016 NCAA convention revealed that two-thirds of Division I student-athletes spend as much time on athletics during the off-season as they do during competition season.
 
 
With only about 3 percent of college athletes attaining professional status in their sport, Egel said students need time to pursue other routes.
 
 
High levels of stress exacerbate student-athletes’ limited ability to balance a hectic schedule, he said.
 
 
Time spent on athletics and academics  has risen since 2010, according to the NCAA study, and about 30 percent of students reported that they felt overwhelmed by their commitments. Still, 90 percent of athletes said their college athletic career benefited their lives, according to the report.
 
 
Chris Hawthorne, a student-athlete voting autonomy representative for the Big Ten, said he too voted to take action on the initiative.
 
 
But he said taking more time to put together a better-rounded plan isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
 
 
“We finally had things on the table, and we wanted there to be a decision,” he said. “Things can move slow in relation to policy.”
 
 
He said there was a “lack of trust” between some of the students and NCAA leaders, especially after the organization had the chance to show accountability with a decision.
 
The life of a University athlete
 
Junior Derek Wiebke, a track athlete, said juggling commitments is tough, especially when athletes sometimes miss class because of competitions.
 
 
Though the NCAA study showed little change in the amount of class missed by athletes, Wiebke said classes missed raise an athlete’s workload.
 
 
When athletes miss a whole week of class for competitions, students need to be proactive to keep up with coursework, he said.
 
 
Senior Jessica Ramberg, a dive team member, said time management skills are essential for successful student athletes.
 
 
She said the resources provided by the University, ranging from mandatory time-management classes freshman year to tutoring centers, have taught her the necessary skills to manage her time efficiently.
 
 
Marc Ryan, a University senior associate athletic director, said coaches, administrators and staff are all heavily involved in making sure students are able to properly balance their lives.
 
 
Presenting a clear image of what life is like for a student-athlete begins during recruitment, Ryan said, adding that it continues through an athlete’s career.
 
 
“We want to make sure we have all the systems in place to set the right tone for these student-athletes from the start,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance.”
 
 
Staff members work throughout the year to build relationships with students, he said.
 
 
“We meet every student-athlete at where they are,” said Peyton Owens III, the University’s assistant athletic director for student-athlete development, diversity and inclusion.
 
“[We] don’t do a one size fits all.”
 
 
At the end of the year, student-athletes complete surveys about their experience in the athletics program, Ryan said.
 
 
Survey information is also shared with the tutoring centers, said J.T. Bruett, director of McNamara Academic Center.
 
 
Advisers are assigned to two or three sports and meet with teams regularly to check in on athletes’ academic progress and concerns.
 
 
With the large amount of resources available to student-athletes, Owens said the school stresses accountability to athletes. Upperclassmen are encouraged to work with younger students to impart knowledge about what has helped them balance their schedules, he said.
 
The cost of being an athlete
 
Wiebke, a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at the University, said going to school for a fifth year — a common occurrence for athletes who are red-shirting or were injured — can be problematic for student-athletes.
 
 
Many don’t know if they want to go to grad school and have completed their classes in four years, he said.
 
 
Even the most balanced schedule doesn’t always provide athletes with enough time to complete internships or have a job, she said. The athletic department, however, hosts career fairs with resume building and mock interviews to help athletes prepare for life after sports, Ramberg said.
 
 
“You have to focus on your priorities,” Ramberg said. “It’s about maximizing your time.”