Year after year, there have been debates regarding whether National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student athletes should be required to maintain full-time student statuses while simultaneously taking on responsibilities as athletes.
Between practices, team meetings, trainer appointments, competitions, classes, internships, doing homework, and a social life, these students’ have more on their plates than most people could balance.
As a former student athlete, I found myself missing classes far too often due to conflicting schedules that placed me at well below the minimum attendance requirement, which subsequently led to low grades.
By the end of morning practices, should I be able to drag myself to different classes, my inability to pay attention obstructed my energy to complete homework assignments as well as attending professors’ office hours. The more I fell behind in my classes, the less likely I was willing to catch up.
Take the University of California, Santa Barbara as an example. The minimum requirement to be a full-time student is marked by enrollment in 12 quarter units, which roughly translates to 18 hours of studying in addition to regularly attending classes and discussion sections.
The NCAA has poorly-enforced restrictions on the number of hours its athletes can participate in intercollegiate athletics. During season, athletes are limited to four hours of training per day up to 20 hours per week with one day off; competitions count as 3 hours. Still, these athletes are subjected to high intensity training that require plenty of rest, not to mention the time spent conditioning and in meetings with trainers (which do not count against the training hours due to the voluntary nature of the activity).
After adding up the countable hours, non-mandatory meetings, and rest, what is supposed to be 20 hours of weekly dedication to a sport rapidly turns into 30-plus hours of serious athletic commitment.
Using the UCSB Swim Team practice schedule as an example, these swimmers are subjected to practices six days a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they begin their workout at 6 a.m. sharp and finish just in time for their 8 a.m. classes. In the afternoon, they again spend an hour in the weight room starting at 2 p.m., followed by another hour of swimming.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, swimmers have their two-hour practices starting at 2 p.m. While they are not asked to be at practice on Sundays and hence leaving one weekend day open, they can be found practicing on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. when their peers are taking advantage of sleeping in.
That is 18 hours of working out, excluding the meetings scheduled prior to each swim meet and the hours spent at the swim meet, which usually goes for at least a few hours. Together, they are another chunk of time taken out of these athletes’ already demanding schedules.
Such a workload would be overwhelming for any kind of student, so imagine the difficulty for athletes who are STEM majors. With courses that often include challenging homework assignments and projects that require many hours of studying, an athlete’s schedule makes succeeding in a STEM field of study almost impossible.
In a recent interview for the article “Women’s Soccer Seniors Reflect on Their Journeys as Athletes,” fourth year communications major and professional business writing minor student, Chace Schornstein admitted that balancing school and sports “could be challenging.”
Looking beyond UCSB, Rashanda McCants and Devon Ramsay, both former student athletes at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, filed a lawsuit in 2015 against their university and the NCAA, citing the former for “(steering) hundreds of college athletes into sham ‘paper classes’” with no attendance requirement nor interaction with faculty members and the latter for its failure to “protect the education and educational opportunities of men and women participating in college athletics.”
Although it was later ruled that UNC did not violate NCAA academic rules, we must not overlook the compromise that these college athletes endure on a daily basis. The academic challenges that they face and the possibility of the lack of a quality educations are simply overwhelming obstacles.
Numbers cited in the lawsuit give clear averages of the enormous time commitment athletes have for their sport. Men’s basketball and baseball athletes spend a whopping 39.2 and 42.1 hours respectively at athletic activities, according to a 2011 NCAA survey. Other men’s sports average 32 hours per week.
The solution is clear: student athletes should not need to be full time students in order to be eligible to compete. Instead, NCAA should allow these individuals to take a fraction of a full course load which they can reasonably be comfortable with. The athletes’ respective institutions may reward their achievements by offering financial help while they spend additional time finishing up their degrees.
Student athletes are students first. They deserve a fair opportunity to be successful both in the classroom and in their own sports; their achievement in one should not come at the cost of another.