Athletes’ courses scrutinized

There are concerns that student athletes are encouraged by their schools to enroll in specific majors or classes.

by Andrew Cummins

With fall registration underway, University student-athletes are choosing courses and planning majors – a process the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, or COIA, said might need more scrutiny.

In light of recent reports of easy independent study courses being offered to University of Michigan athletes, the group is reiterating its stance that colleges and universities nationwide shouldn’t encourage student-athletes to enroll in specific majors and courses in order to maintain eligibility.

COIA, which consists of 56 faculty senate members from across the country, also recommended that institutions keep data on which majors student-athletes enroll in.

The main worry stems from the possibility of school officials ensuring that student-athletes stay eligible, and that athletics departments don’t incur penalties for poor academic performance, said Carole Brown, co-chair of COIA.

Because of the NCAA’s enforcement of penalties upon finding poor academic progress among student athletes, Brown said “the potential for a problem exists everywhere.”

Brown, who is also a biology professor at Wake Forest University, said evidence of the problem is present within her school.

“We do have a disproportionate number of athletes clustered into two majors,” she said, without specifying which ones. “That’s the kind of things universities need to look at.”

Despite the new round of nationwide concerns, University athletics department officials were already aware of the issue, said Mark Nelson, McNamara Academic Center director.

“The University of Minnesota is kind of ahead of the curve,” he said.

During registration time, the Academic Center assists student athletes with registering for courses, but does not act as a replacement for regular academic counselors that all students have, Nelson said.

In addition, he said the University conducts an annual audit of its sports teams, which includes a statistical breakdown of how student athletes are doing academically. It includes an analysis of which majors and courses are most popular.

The Athletics Department also works closely with the University’s Faculty Athletic Oversight Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, which helps oversee student athlete academic issues.

In reaction to the recent allegations in Ann Arbor, Mich., Nelson said the Athletics Department received a request from the committee asking for an investigation of the University’s independent study courses.

The results, which came back in past couple of weeks, showed no problems with the courses, Nelson said.

No matter the University’s influence, some majors attract more student athletes than others. One of the most common majors among student athletes is communication studies, which often stems from the student athletes’ love of sports, Nelson said.

“They want to be the next Chris Berman, or go back and coach or train,” he said.

Another popular major, business and marketing education, attracted first-year Gophers men’s hockey player Brian Schack.

Schack said he found the major appealing because of his interest in business, and also because he’d heard about it from other players on the team.

“A bunch of other guys were in the program,” he said.

Come registration time, Schack said one of the hardest things to figure out is a course schedule that doesn’t conflict with practices, travel time and competitions – which has forced him to take a lot of night classes.

Nelson echoed Schack’s sentiment about conflicts, but said the athletics department always tries to accommodate the academic goals of student athletes.

To help student athletes have access to courses and enroll in majors of their choice, Nelson added, some coaches excuse players early or end practice early for everyone, a trend which might increase next fall.

Because so many football players are taking night courses on the St. Paul campus next fall, Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster is considering moving up the end of practice by an hour, Nelson said.