As we went through another round of registering for classes last month, I found myself again advising student athletes on class scheduling and trying to strategize on how to manage a competitive team of 45 athletes around classes offered between 4 and 6:30 p.m. I am always surprised how many required courses there are that are only offered during this time. I realize there is no written policy in place for class scheduling, but I believe at one time there was an unwritten understanding of sorts that directed required courses, with only one section, to be offered before 4 p.m. or after 6:50 p.m., thereby allowing students time to participate in extra-curricular activities.
Somewhere along the way, the translation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III philosophy was paraphrased as “academics come first,” and maybe in a figurative sense that rings true. But when taken literally it carries a whole new meaning, and that meaning cuts deeply into the student athlete experience. There needs to be a shared appreciation for the applied learning that is an integral part of participating on a varsity athletic team. Interestingly, I have had student athletes use the phrase, “academics come first,” as an excuse to miss practice because they have to study for an exam. In reality, the reason they were not prepared for the exam was really because of poor time management. Yet, think how easy it is to have the fallback “academics come first.” Who could argue with that? We really need to think about the meaning behind the phrase and not just what the words say.
When we, as educators, stop working together, it is the students who lose. As an undergraduate student, I was cut from the basketball team because of anticipated conflicts with courses required for my major. I vowed never to be that coach. Yet, when a student athlete has a conflict with team practice, it is the coach’s prerogative to cut that athlete. Now the philosophy of “academics come first” gets interesting, because if there is no secondary activity or interest, how can there be a first? So, it really is “academics only,” and I don’t think that fits into the mission or the IC20/20 vision of Ithaca College. It is time that we — students, athletes, coaches, professors, administrators, advisers and department chairs — re-read the NCAA DIII philosophy and reflect not only on what it means, but also on how we can work cooperatively to enhance the experiences of our student athletes.
The NCAA DIII policy is: “Colleges and universities in Division III place highest priority on the overall quality of the educational experience and on the successful completion of all students’ academic programs. They seek to establish and maintain an environment in which a student athlete’s athletic activities are conducted as an integral part of the student athlete’s educational experience, and in which coaches play a significant role as educators. They also seek to establish and maintain an environment that values cultural diversity and gender equity among their student athletes and athletics staff.”
Becky Robinson ’88 is the head coach of the women’s crew. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.