Norse athletes successfully juggle class and competition

In order for athletes at a collegiate level to succeed in their respected sport, they first have to be accomplished academically as a student — that is why they are called student athletes.

In a study released in 2009, NKU student-athletes who entered as freshman during the 2002-03 year were able to graduate in six years 44 percent of the time, as opposed to other students who were only able to reach the same goal 33 perecent of the time.

“Our student athletes continue to perform at a significantly higher rate than the student body at NKU,” said athletic director Scott Eaton.

To help to achieve that goal, the university has two academic advisers, Kathy Steffen and Chrissy Soards who meet with student athletes to make sure their classes keep them eligible under NCAA rules. When necessary, they connect them with a tutor.

The athletic department requests grades and attendance checks every three weeks from faculty members to monitor the progress.

To keep up with their studies, many of the teams conduct study tables in the library, in the Thomas J. Kearns Student-Athletic Academic Center, or in hotel conference rooms while traveling.

Hunter Durden, a senior cross country runner, said student athletes have an extra motivation to do well in classes.

“We have coaches breathing down our necks to stay eligible and we are pushed towards tudors,” Durden said. “We also have to attend mandatory study tables.”

NKU has been a Division II powerhouse in sports over the last several years, but their accomplishments in the classroom and their graduation rates are not as publicized.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in a press conference that collegiate teams that are not expected to have half of their athletes graduate on time should be shut out of the men’s and women’s NCAA Championships. He was talking specifically about the NCAA Division I tournaments, but a changed DI policy could very well influence Division II.

Eaton believes this is not too much to ask, and that student athletes should be expected to graduate.

“To have less than half of any athletic team be on schedule to graduate would not be acceptable,” Eaton said. “Our standards are significantly higher than that.”

The divisions are measured by different systems. The Graduation Success Rate measures graduation rates at Division I institutions and includes students transferring into the institutions.

The Graduation Success Rate also allows institutions to exclude from the calculation student athletes who leave their institutions before graduation, provided they would have been academically eligible to compete had they remained.

The Academic Success Rate measures graduation rates at Division II institutions and is similar to the Graduation Success Rate. The only difference is that this inlcudes students who were recruited to play sports but are not on scholarship.

Many athletes plan to graduate in four years, but some plan to stay longer. The athletic department tries to financially assist as many athletes as possible, but they are not able to help them all due to budget constraints. They continue to provide them with academic support until they graduate. Also, some of NKU’s student athletes receive NCAA Degree Completion Awards which assist student athletes struggling to find the finances to graduate.

Story by John Minor