Athletes honored for academic success

Minnesota student-athletes are receiving accolades for their academic achievements, but some faculty members are looking to avoid future problems.

Collegiate athletes are told they are students first, and the Big Ten is rewarding some University of Minnesota athletes who listened. The Big Ten honored 48 Minnesota student-athletes July 15, adding them to the list of Big Ten Distinguished Scholars. Student-athletes must be a letter winner in their sport and also have a GPA of 3.7 or higher in order to receive the honor. Senior soccer player Sara Clancy and graduates Matt Nohelty (baseball) and Jenny Shaughnessy (womenâÄôs swimming) were some of the athletes who made the list. Nohelty and Shaughnessy had already earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor earlier this year. Chris Cords , an academic adviser for student-athletes, said it is important for athletes to be recognized for their academic achievements because the majority of Minnesota student-athletes work hard in the classroom and are successful. Though many Gophers are receiving honors for their academic performance, NCAA statistics on academic progress rates and graduation success rates donâÄôt always reflect such high performances. Mark Nelson , director of Gopher Academics, said the results can be skewed as far as graduation rates go because we send so many athletes off to play professionally before they exhaust all years of eligibility. Additionally, if a student-athlete transfers schools, they will add to the list of people who did not graduate, bringing the average down. Despite these exceptions, there are some student-athletes that do come into college unprepared to deal with the academic workload. The staff at the McNamara Academic Center has taken it upon itself to improve the academic success of these Gophers that may be underprepared, he said. âÄúPart of the reason why I came here four years ago was because we were ready to make some changes,âÄù Nelson said. The McNamara Academic Center offers one-on-one tutoring for student-athletes in various subjects. Athletes are also required to log study hours during their first semesters (the number varies from team to team) to ensure they can make a steady transition to the college-level workload. Clancy has taken advantage of the academic resources provided for student-athletes and said itâÄôs difficult to do poorly if they utilize them correctly. âÄúThe University provides tons of resources, so itâÄôs almost hard not to do well,âÄù Clancy said. âÄúEven if youâÄôre not doing well in a class itâÄôs always easy to find someone to help.âÄù While there are plenty of resources for current Minnesota athletes, Nelson said he tries to diagnose potential academic problems early. âÄúWhen coaches are recruiting athletes so far in advance, the prospective athleteâÄôs academic profile isnâÄôt easy to assess until it comes closer to the end of their senior year of high school,âÄù Nelson said. To help ease problems that this could cause, Minnesota now requires all incoming freshmen to fill out a questionnaire to help academic advisers spot any red flags that might show potential difficulties in an athleteâÄôs academic success before they begin college. Nelson said this will hopefully prevent problems early on and keep athletic programs succeeding at a high academic level. âÄúWe have some incredible students, and itâÄôs disheartening that the few that underachieve take away from the hundreds that do achieve very well,âÄù Nelson said. âÄúThe majority of our students do extremely well from the start.âÄù