Why Varsity Athletes Should Receive Academic Credit

Varsity athletics for academic credit?

I recently discussed the varsity athletics for academic credit proposal that was in the works at my college. Well, here's the news:

The proposal passed.

Starting in September, varsity athletes can get half a unit a season for up to four seasons for participating in their sport. The details, of course, are still being hammered out: what to do about freshmen who may drop the sport and walk-ons who may not make the team, whether an academic component (such as writing a paper on the history of the sport) will be required, which semester the credit will be granted for sports that span both semesters, and so on.

It passed, but...

The proposal passed with approximately 2:1 approval. Of the concerns expressed by faculty, the main worry was that students who were getting credit for their sport would choose to skip class or labs in favor of practices and games--or even in favor of some downtime before the practice or game. Such things already happen. Some faculty have complained of student-athletes emailing the day before a class or the day before a big paper was due to say "Sorry, I can't be in class or turn in that paper yet, I have [athletic event] to attend instead." That's just wrong. Being an athlete does not grant a person special privileges. If anything, it holds a person to a higher standard, committing to both academic and athletic excellence.

The faculty are worried about student-athletes abusing their newfound credits, and, well, so am I. As much as I'll argue that many important things can be learned from participation on a sports team (and I have, just see the end of my previous discussion of the varsity athletics proposal), at this time, in this college, academics come first. The best way to allay these worries may simply be to demonstrate, over the next few years, that granting credit doesn't change how student-athletes behave. We can help this effort along by proactively ensuring that student-athletes are committed to both academic and athletic excellence. Give a boost to the general student-athlete reputation, so to speak. Here are two of the things we're doing:

  • Our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee drafted a Best Practices document some time back, outlining suggestions for successfully balancing academic and athletic commitments. All teams are being reminded that this document exists for a reason.

  • The athletic department is designing an academic excellence program geared towards helping freshman and sophomore student-athletes. Upperclassmen will be advisors and mentors, providing new student-athletes with academic advice as well as advice on how to balance their academics and athletics. Other awesome stuff TBA--the program is still in the brainstorming stage. Hopefully, it'll be rolled out in the fall.

Relevant facts in favor of credit

All of the above is happening whether or not you personally agree that credit should be granted. If you do, great. If you don't (and my previous discussion didn't convince you), I'd like to introduce you to a few interesting and relevant facts that may change how you think about the proposal:

  1. In the academic year 1971-72, the number of units required to graduate increased from 32 to 34, due to a decision to grant credit for Physical Education courses. Varsity athletes, under the new rule, will be able to get a max of 2 units from their athletics participation.
  2. Varsity athletics are the only area of the college in which student performance is closely overseen by faculty members (in this case, our coaches) but is not awarded credit. Areas that do get credit include drama department shows, voice lessons, and jazz ensemble, to name a few.
  3. We don't have a physical education requirement. Most, maybe even all, of our peer institutions do have such a requirement and do allow students to count varsity athletics towards this requirement. Oberlin College has no such requirement, and funnily enough, awards credit for participation in varsity athletics.

Give it a think.

Monday, March 29, 2010 - tags: college fencing


  • said: Reply

    Ah yes, the music lesson credit. I remember being completely befuddled when credits appeared on my transcript for my Junior year bass lessons.

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