Athletes’ education more important than playing time

At universities, academic scores and athletics do not always go hand-in-hand in a student-athletes mind, but that is not the case at UCA.

UCA prides itself on ensuring student-athlete’s get the proper education needed to succeed outside of sports.

With the Family Educational Rights of Privacy Act, UCA’s student-athletes grades are unattainable to students.

In an Oct. 25, 2013 story published on, UCA ranked third among Southland Conference Schools in graduation success rates.

Only Oral Roberts University and Texas A&M – Corpus Christi rank ahead of UCA.

Since the story was published, UCA has undergone two coaching
changes – Steve Campbell as the head football coach and Russ Pennell as the men’s basketball coach.

Campbell talked about the importance of getting a college degree.

“I have coached six guys who are on current [National Football League (NFL)] rosters and these guys got an associate degree and/or a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “Student-athletes have to get that degree.”

Men’s basketball has struggled with getting players with decent GPAs ont the court.

Senior guard LaQuentin Miles and sophomore forward Terrell Brown missed time because of low GPAs this season.

Freshman guard Taylor Johnson was the only player on the team to reach a 3.0 GPA for the fall semester and he never reached the court.

Pennell addressed his concerns about student-athlete GPAs.

“A lot of [academics]start with recruiting,” he said. “If we compromise the academic standard for playing ability, then eventually it’s going to catch you. If you don’t get the classwork done, you don’t get on the court.”

The UCA football team has led among Division I universities in the conference and Arkansas in Academic Progress Rate (APR) for three consecutive years.

APR is similar to the graduation success rate, and the NCAA uses it to calculate the eligibility and retention of student-athletes by the universities they attend on a term-by-term basis.

UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague said academics are important to university athletics and what it means to be successful inside the classroom as well as out.

“There is a great deal of pride to lead our conference in academics,” he said. “UCA is tough academically, which requires better-prepared students to succeed. We are fortunate to have student-athletes who are successful in academics and athletics.”

While football and basketball are the most popular collegiate sports, every sport must meet the same NCAA-set academic standard set.

Because student-athletes spend a lot time perfecting their athletic ability in their specified sport, it leaves little time outside of the sport and schoolwork.

That is not to say student-athletes do not attend class, but some may not receive the academic attention they need to succeed outside athletics.

Student-athletes are expected to keep grades up in order to be eligible to play in their sport.

The NCAA requires student-athletes to pass 24 new hours during every academic year.

Student-athletes are subject to suspension if they cannot reach a 2.0 GPA for consecutive semesters.

The first suspension will make the student-athlete ineligible for one academic semester and the summer session.

According to the UCA Athletic Handbook, all freshman and incoming transfers are required to attend the Academic Success Center their first semester.

Once the student achieves a 2.5 cumulative GPA, he is no longer required to attend the Academic Success Center.

This can differ for each coach.

The second time student-athletes are suspended, it will cause them to sit out one calendar year.

A third suspension will result in academic dismissal for an indefinite time period.

Not every student-athlete can maintain the ability to keep his GPA up even though he is at the university education level.

Senior baseball pitcher Bryce Biggerstaff said head baseball coach Allen Gum makes excelling in the classroom a priority.

“Coach Gum definitely emphasizes academics,” he said. “He reminds us to always go to class and let the professors work with us to be successful. The baseball team takes academics very seriously and we feel that they are really important.”

UCA also led the league in the number of members on the 2013 fall academic honor roll.

According to, UCA had 113 student-athletes named to the honor roll, with 24 of them having a 4.0 GPA.

They led the SLC in that category as well.

Some have questioned whether the word student should even exist in the phrase “student-athlete.”

Two years ago, a scandal broke out at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus about the reading levels of student-athletes and classes that were being offered.

According to a Jan. 8, 2014 CNN article, Mary Willingham, a former learning specialist at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill campus, met with a student-athlete who could not read early in her career.

She didn’t know how to help him.

She found he was not the only student-athlete at the campus who could not read, or had trouble reading.

Soon after learning this, Willingham researched the reading levels of 183 student- athletes who played football or basketball at the UNC – Chapel Hill campus from 2004-2012.

She found that 60 percent read between fourth- and eighth-grade levels, and between eight and 10 percent read below a third-grade level.

Willingham then wondered how student-athletes were getting along in the classroom if they could not read at a collegiate level.

She found that several students were getting grades for classes that didn’t require attendance, rarely met and had one paper due at the end of the term.

A Bleacher Report article showed a picture of a final term paper that a student-athlete turned in for one of the classes, for which they received an A- for a one-paragraph, nine-sentence essay on Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Ala. for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.

The information leaked to the public showed UNC – Chapel Hill placed 120 reforms to no academic transgressions.

Ohio State University football player Cardale Jones didn’t help the negative perceptions of student-athlete academic performance.

“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play football, we didn’t come to play school, classes are pointless,” he said in an October 2012 tweet.

An Oct. 5, 2012 article from USA Today states that about 10 percent of college football players go on to play in the NFL.

Some athletes choose to balance their education and athletics with extracurricular activities.

In April 2013, UCA junior safety Bobby Watkins was initiated into Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

“My dad played for the Detroit Lions for several seasons, seeing how he managed college football, academics and the fraternity made me want to follow in his footsteps,” he said. “He felt that Omega Psi Phi helped him persevere through obstacles life deals you and that is what I want in life, to build the foundation of manhood.”

Watkins said, his grades excelled during the Fall of 2013 as he went from a 2.75 to 3.25 GPA over the course of his transition into Greek life.

Various athletes in the NFL chose Greek life while playing college football such as Emmitt Smith (Phi Beta Sigma), Colin Kaepernick (Kappa Alpha Psi) and the late Steve McNair (Omega Psi Phi).

According to the UCA website, Greeks have a cumulative average of 3.06 compared to non-Greeks who have a 2.78 average.

For most college athletes, academics might seem secondary to what they are getting awarded a scholarship to do.

However, universities put a large emphasis on getting the best education for their athletes so they can be successful in life away from the court or field after their athletic careers come to an end.

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