Do Student Athletes have it better than Students, Who Wins?

By Kevin Swenson


WORCESTER – Growing up, I was always told: “Doing athletics makes you better” and “Athletes work very hard to maintain personal lives, academic lives, and their sport” and, just sometimes, “Athletes are better”. This naturally led me to believe that I could be all I could be by being a student athlete. Eventually I did. I became a cross country and track runner for 6 years before deciding that I would never be on the U.S. Olympic team and that my future was job orientated not sport orientated.

However, I had always wondered to myself: “I was an athlete, I never felt any better or different from anybody else. I just had to go to practice and games. Was I any better than my non-athlete friends?” This question became even more prominent in my life after I became what Assumption College students like to call a NARP, or “Non-Athlete Regular Person”. I was really curious to know whether or not student athletes really did have it worse, or on the flip side, had it better in terms of schooling when they go to college.

It should be no surprise to people college athletics tends to be a very large and mainstream thing for students and faculty, dependent on the school. It should also come as no surprise that many colleges spend a lot of their money on their athletic programs in order to draw in more athletes as well as fans and, in the case of Division I schools, even a brand for themselves. But could a school survive without any kind of athletic program. For this miniature case study, I have selected various members of the Assumption College to answer the variety of questions that have been drawn up for athletics. They are: Brian Lang, Director of Recreation at Assumption College, Beatriz Patino, Director of the Cross Cultural Center, Miguel Durate, Treasurer of the ALANA Network at Assumption College, Cameron Garrant, Student Senator in Assumption’s Student Government Association, and Jonathan Kezer, senior History Major at Assumption.

In regard to these questions the group answered in this way:

“I think the purpose of college athletics is to provide students seeking a competitive outlet an option aside from intramural sports or academics. I think a college could easily survive without them, but it would be comprised of a very different student population if that was the case,” Says Cameron putting a heavy emphasis on the survival of a college without a program.

“The purpose of college athletics is to foster an environment where high school athletes can continue to play the sport that they love while still performing at a competitive level. Even though sports is an important factor in the social life of a college student, the aim of a college is to educate the student, therefore, a college can absolutely survive without sports,” says Miguel, taking a stronger stance on the idea of a college’s survival in athletics.

“By definition, the purpose of the integration of sports into the collegiate setting was ‘education through athletics.’  The main reason that athletics have a role in collegiate settings was to enhance the learning (teamwork, persistence, dedication, passion, etc.) experience outside of the classroom.  The misconceived notion about why colleges have athletics, should reexamine the original reason for having them (education through athletics).  Colleges do survive without athletics, as there are quite a lot of them out there without it, however the question is not whether they can continue but more about what athletics can bring to the table.  The increased sense of spirit, passion, and alumni following that athletics bring to a college can’t be measured, but definitely play an important part in the marketing of a college,” says Brian, who drives home the point of athletics not being just to have them but rather to bring something to the table other clubs or academics alone cannot do.

“The purpose of college athletics is similar to that of student affairs. (They do fall under student affairs, but often viewed as separate.) “The mission of Assumption College is clear. Assumption, rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition, strives to form graduates known for critical intelligence, thoughtful citizenship and compassionate service.” The purpose of Athletics is not separate from this…I see it as complimentary to what we strive for our students to become as they graduate. Athletics is another piece of that puzzle. Athletics aims to provide athletes with leadership skills, team skills, consistent fitness, a serving heart, community pride, spirit, and so much more,” says Beatriz, who notes later that many of her students that come to her organization are in college because of athletics and is partially thankful for that.

“I believe athletics are generally a good thing for colleges. They do draw in a different crowd of students and allow many students to get the chance to remember the days of athletics back in high school. Could a school survive without them? Yes but I don’t think Assumption could without them,” says Jonathan who thinks Assumption, given that it’s relatively small, needs it’s athletics to survive.

But what of imbalance between the athlete or the non-athlete? Is a school’s dedication to its athletics sometimes unfair for those who do not do athletics? What about resources? Do non-athletes have fewer resources available for them academically?

Cameron thinks so, stating: “I have noticed that academically, financially, and socially, athletes are generally treated preferentially compared to non-athletics students.”

He goes on: “I think there is less weight on the shoulders of athletes in terms of academic performance. If they need arises for an athlete to miss a class for a game, or they need to meet with a specialized adviser or faculty, those options are often available to them. If an average non-athletic student requested those same outlets, they would not be available except in extenuating circumstances.”

Miguel agrees, and even goes as far as to say that terms, like NARP are offensive given that it’s a way to separate the students, thus creating a division of importance or power.

In terms of academic performance, Brian takes a stand against the imbalance stating: “This question, for someone who works with students on a daily basis in both the athletic and non-athletic field is rather offensive.  This specific athletic department makes academics the number one priority for its students.  They have three departmental goals (academics, athletics, & community).  All coaches and seniors are evaluated at the end of their seasons on these three criteria’s.  Additionally, Assumption has by far the best academic support center out of all of the colleges I have worked, and that is saying something.  I don’t think any student can argue that there aren’t enough resources available, I just don’t think they always take advantage of them.” Brian goes on to explain that he has spent a lot of time with student athletes at schools that focused heavily on academics first, and feels that each student, athlete or not, has the same resources available to them.

Beatriz agrees with Brian, but does feel that at some level, there is an imbalance between athlete and non-athlete, but it is never enough to cause a stir in a community. Jonathan takes a middle ground stance: in one way, yes, athletes do get special treatment, but at the same time they are held to a  higher standard and can be hurt just as easily as they are excused in some areas.

And what of Assumption and how we feel socially about our athletes; do we hold them up high? Cameron, Jon, and Miguel agree that we do. Cameron states: “I think there is a preference given to athletes here at Assumption, and I think the students as a whole know that there is.”

Miguel says: “They have an advantage when it comes to the social life aspect, but not in how the school treats them. Even though they would like to have preferences with things such as priority course selection.”

Jonathan agrees, and gives more feedback: “I think there is entitlement that is personal for the athletes, but I don’t think the school goes out of its way totally to give them preference.”

Brian strongly disagrees with these points and makes a counter point of his own: “I think that there is the perception out there that preference is given to student athletes on this campus, however it a misconceived perception.  Everything that these student athletes receive is more than earned, and less than they truly deserve.  I hear upperclassmen complaining about their internships and the time commitment all the time.  When we look at an average internship (100 hours for a semester) and compare it to the average semester for a student athlete (at least 350 – practices, games, travel, community service, study groups, etc.) the time commitment doesn’t even compare.  If the traditional student understood what it was like to be a student-athlete (truly) then the perception would go away.  Unfortunately, as time has shown, this isn’t realistic to expect.” Brian makes a good point in that the student athlete, even if some people would call it “just a game”, it is a much larger margin of time than the average student’s day, and physically more grueling than others.

Beatriz agrees with Brian and adds on: “I think some of the Assumption Community gives preference to athletes, but not everyone. I know there are institutions where Athletes get preference for picking classes before others and that is not done here. I think students definitely think there is preference given to Athletes. Probably more than they are given to be honest.”

So what’s the take away here? It seems there really is no answer to the question of: “Do student athletes get more than the non-athlete student?” On the one hand, as students have pointed out, they feel as though there is a preference given to them simply because they are athletes and that it is unfair. It comes in a social, financial, and academic format. However, administration has shown us that these students get the benefits same as anyone else and have a much larger time commitment on and off the field/court. Is there a discrepancy between student athlete and non-athlete? Probably. But there is really no way to concrete this idea. It just will not happen. But, as these members of the Assumption Community have shown us, there is definitely something to be aware of all of the time.

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