Football Players and Academic Standards Should college athletes be held to the same standard as their non-athletic peers

At a D1 university like Clemson, athletes receive a lot of attention. Especially after the football team's National Championship in 2016. Many questions arise as some of these college kids have become somewhat celebrities across the United States. For example, what do athletes have to achieve academically to remain in school? How does this compare to their peers who do not participate in school athletics? Should there be any comparison at all? After research, investigation, and interviews, we determined that football players (and other college athletes) should be held to the same academic standard as other college students because they are receiving the same education as their classmates.

Today Clemson athletes are not exempt from academic requirements. In total, there are nineteen varsity sports teams with four-hundred and fifty participating athletes (Prospective Students Web). These sports include men’s football, basketball, cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, rowing, tennis, soccer, diving and golf; and women’s volleyball, basketball, cross country, indoor track, outdoor track, rowing, tennis, soccer, diving, and golf (Prospective Students Web). Clemson athletes have to meet the NCAA academic requirements as well as maintaining a minimum GPA relative to their sport as well as the minimum credit hours (Current Student-Athletes Web). For an athlete’s sophomore year, they must have twenty-four credit hours with eighteen earned during the previous year as well as a 1.80 GPA. They must be enrolled in at least six credit hours for each term, and football players must be enrolled in nine credit hours in the fall term. For their junior year, athletes must have completed forty percent of their degree requirements. They must have a declared major and completed eighteen credit hours towards their degree as well as a 1.90 GPA. They must be in at least six credits applicable to their degree for each semester, with football players having a requirement of nine credit hours in the fall. For their senior year, athletes must have a 2.00 GPA and have completed eighteen credits towards their major. They must have six credits in each semester, with the exception of football players having nine. They must be finished with sixty percent of degree requirements. For the athlete’s fifth year of school, the requirements are equivalent to the requirements of their senior year, with the exception that they must have completed eighty percent of degree requirements (Current Student-Athletes Web). Clemson athletes are also offered specific tutors under the Athletic Academic Services (Educational Services Web). These tutors include learning specialists, content tutors, and mentors; with some focusing on course content mastery and others focusing on schedule planning (Educational Services Web).

To be eligible to participate in an NCAA sport at a Division I school the first year of college, a student must meet a list of requirements. First, they must earn a high school diploma. Athletes must also complete sixteen different courses, including four years of English, two years of natural/physical science including one year of lab science, three years of math Algebra 1 or higher, a supplemental year of another English, math or natural/physical science, two years of social science and four supplemental years of courses in English, math, natural/physical science, social science, foreign language, religion or philosophy. Ten core courses (seven English, math natural/science) must be completed before the seventh semester of high school (senior year). At the start of seventh semester, none of these courses can be taken again to improve GPA, which must be at least a 2.3 (Play Division I Sports Web). SAT and ACT test scores are weighted with the total GPA. (Test Scores Web).

To be accepted into Clemson University, every student must show completion in the following coursework: four credits in English, three credits in math, three laboratory science credits, three foreign language credits, three credits of social science, one credit in physical education, one fine arts credit, and two additional credits in any coursework (How to Apply (Undergraduate) Web). Generally speaking, most accepted Clemson students have an SAT score between 1170 to 1330 and an ACT score between 26 to 31 (How to Apply (Undergraduate) Web). Current Clemson students must earn a semester GPR of 1.5 or higher to avoid being placed on academic alert, even if their GPA is above a 2.0 (Academic Eligibility Web). The academic alert warns advisors to help prevent the student from delaying graduation (Academic Eligibility Web). If a student’s cumulative GPR is below 2.0, they will be placed on academic probation where their grades will be evaluated at the end of each semester Academic Eligibility Web). Students who fail to meet the standards required will be placed on academic suspension which lasts for one semester and is only applicable to students who have attended Clemson for three semesters (Academic Eligibility Web). Students can be dismissed if they attempt to reenroll after academic suspension (Academic Eligibility Web). This lasts for one year and can only be revoked after an appeal (Academic Eligibility Web). If the student successfully appeals and fails to meet the academic standards after reenrolling, he or she will be permanently dismissed (Academic Eligibility Web)). These academic standards include three criteria, only one of which needs to be met (Academic Eligibility Criteria Web). Clemson students must either pass twelve credit hours and earn a minimum GPA of 2.4 every term, pass twelve credit hours and earn a minimum GPA of 2.4 for summer terms, or bring their GPA up to a 2.0 or equivalent GPR (Academic Eligibility Criteria Web). After attempting sixteen to twenty-nine credit hours, students must have a GPR of 1.75; after thirty to fifty-nine credit hours, students must have a GPR of 1.85; after sixty to eighty-nine hours, their GPR must be 1.95; and any students with credit hours of ninety or above must have a minimum GPR of 2.0 to be eligible for Clemson academics (Academic Eligibility Criteria Web).

People are not always supportive of the NCAA and student athletes. Academic fraud is a huge problem universities and the NCAA have been dealing with in recent years. Several team’s athletic managers and directors, to keep athletes academically eligible, have committed academic fraud. For example, at Weber State University, in 2014, a mathematics professor took all quizzes, tests, and the final exam, for five student athletes taking an online course (New). Similar situations were also reported nationwide, of athletes being encouraged to take online courses, or courses that only required a final paper, so that someone other than the athlete could complete the course work.

As academic fraud is a huge issue facing the NCAA, APR legislation was introduced to try and solve this problem. APR or Academic Progress Rate, is legislation introduced to cut back academic fraud, and increase graduation rates for student athletes. APR legislation does this by requiring that athletes meet benchmarks for academic progress, or the team would face sanctions by the NCAA (Power). There are some criticisms of APR legislation, however, saying that it will motivate the use of academic fraud further. If athletes are admitted to a university based on athletic performance and not academic performance, then they will simply not be able to keep up at these high rigor academic institutions. Even if an athlete is given tutoring and help outside the classroom, they still may not be able to succeed academically, and to meet APR benchmarks, athletes may be more motivated to cheat, or to have other students or coaches do their assignments for them. Clemson athletics were praised last year for having all athletic programs exceed APR thresholds ("Clemson Programs Continue Excellence in NCAA APR."). Since the introduction of APR scores in 2005, Clemson has been one of eight universities to have both men’s basketball and football programs receive honor in the same year.

Speaking of Clemson, we were able to interview a current Clemson football player to understand more of the athlete's perspective on balancing school and sports. In an interview with junior linebacker, number 33, JD Davis, we were able to get some firsthand insight into what it’s like to be a Clemson football player. JD is majoring in marketing, but says that most football players are communications majors. When asked how many credit hours a football player typically takes, JD answered, “12-15. I don’t think I could give my best effort if I took any more, but we also have to take classes over the summer.” The low amount of credit hours taken is due to the long hours of practice that football players must put in each week, which JD says is about 20. This means that football players spend significantly more hours on the field than in the classroom each week. JD also said that they are required to maintain a certain GPA, which, “is a problem for a few, but the majority keep it up.”

Daniel Oppenheimer, a professor of psychology and marketing at UCLA, believes pluralistic ignorance is the leading reason student athletes don’t succeed in the classroom (Oppenheimer). Oppenheimer surveyed student athletes on how much they care about athletics, academics, and how strongly they think their teammates care about academics. Responses were given on a 1-10 scale, 1 being the least and 10 being the most. On average athletes cared about athletics an 8.5, academics a 9, and how their teammates care about academics a 7.8. As a group, the athletes thought their teammates cared about academics significantly less than they did themselves. Pluralistic ignorance is when private preferences differ from perceptions of group norms. Due to pluralistic ignorance, athletes will believe that their teammates don’t care about academics strongly, so an individual athlete may decide to take easier courses or have an easy major so they don’t appear to care more about academics than the team. Oppenheimer believes that this causes student athletes to not strive for academic greatness and why student athletes don’t excel academically compared to their student peers.

One reason that college athletes should be held to the same standards is based on what has happened to numerous other schools and what could potentially happen at Clemson: academic scandal. The amount academic integrity that was once held in high regards by top Universities such as UNC-Chapel Hill or Syracuse University. These academic scandals are a dime a dozen and it feels as though there is another university in the hot seat each week.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has come under investigation by the NCAA after it was discovered that many athletes were enrolled in some classes that never met as well as some that did not even have instructors that go as far back as 1993. These were classes that academic counselors were pushing athletes towards, many of them football and basketball players, because many of them relied on classes like these as “GPA boosters” in order to keep them afloat and eligible ( This is both a negative for the university as a whole, which has to worry about their public image, but also the students that were involved and the students that attend the university. The students involved in the cheating are obviously cheated out of the education they were promised, whether they care or not, but the regular students are affected as well. They now will graduate from a top school, but one that now has academic scrutiny associated with it.

It’s not just UNC either, according to an article from NPR, the NCAA said there are currently 20 schools under investigation for academic misconduct alone, and those are just the ones that have been caught. It’s also not just the students that are sneaking answers into the test, it involves administrators and educators that are not only turning a blind eye to the situation, but aiding students first hand in cheating the system so they can remain in good academic standing. When those that are supposed to be enforcing the high level of academic integrity many of these schools hold themselves to are the ones disobeying it, there is clearly a major problem.

So where does this problem come from and what can be done to fix it? The problem is without a doubt greed of top university officials. The money that some schools’ football or basketball programs bring in is enough to see why this problem has started, Texas A&M raked in $192.6 million last year alone (Gaines). However, while this is the larger, over-arching issue, the real problem begins with the leeway student-athletes are given in the first place. Due to the fact that almost all universities make exceptions for athletes from as early as the admissions process, it’s clear that a lot of athletes have a longer leash in terms of academic discipline. For example UC Berkley reported in 2004 that “95 percent of its freshman football players on scholarship were special admits compared with 2 percent of the student body” (Wilner). While it is understandable that participating in a sport at the collegiate level is difficult and time-consuming, this wiggle room they get on their academics is too much of a grey area. This is what leads to committing academic fraud. It starts off innocent enough, but one thing leads to another and all of a sudden the university has fake classes for athletes to take in order to maintain eligibility within the NCAA. If athletes were held to the same standards as all other students then universities would have a benchmark. While this may seem like it would cause more players and schools to cheat more, when there isn't such a grey area, it’s clear what is right and what is wrong. This way, student-athletes can focus on achieving higher grades through legal ways, whether it’s extra tutoring, mandatory team study hours, or some other method. These scandals are a result of what can happen when universities decide their athletic programs trump the educational integrity of their school, staff, and students and this is why athletes should be held to the same standards.

This topic will most likely remain a debatable topic for as long as America continues to love sports and their players. Clemson athletes have a little more wiggle room academically than their non-athletic peers, especially in terms of GPA. But college athletes are required to be hard workers- balancing school with serious athletics. They do a remarkable job representing our school across the nation, which is one of the reasons they receive so much praise and attention. College athletes are students as well, and this is part of what makes their representation of their school so exemplary. It is for this reason that they should be held to the same academic standard as non-athletic students. Perhaps this lack of faith in themselves is what sometimes keeps them from reaching their full potential.


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