What It Means to be a Student-Athlete

Many people perceive that a college athlete’s sole responsibility is to perform well on the field. While there is undoubtedly pressure to maintain a certain level of performance in their respective sports, there are several off the field obligations that athletes must fulfill. In addition to coping with the rigors of their playing schedule, athletes are expected to perform academically and act in a respectful manner while representing their University off the field. College athletes must handle all of these expectations in order to embrace the role of being a student-athlete.

“First and foremost as an athlete you have a bit of a burden,” said Tom Bieber, Director of Athletics Academic Support. “You take the burden of representing Monmouth University as a whole; on campus, off campus, when you compete away, and when you compete at home. Athletes are an extension of the University.”

A central objective for college athletes is to perform well academically. “We certainly want athletes to put academics in the forefront. As much as I understand athletics is a big piece of what athletes do here and in a lot of instances athletes are obligated to perform and perform well because of athletic scholarships, from my departments area we want athletes to take academics as serious as possible,” explained Bieber.

The National Collegiate Athletics Association or NCAA institutes several academic requirements that athletes must pass in order to be eligible for their season. According to the NCAA, athletes must have a full-time schedule which is a minimum of 12 credits every semester, they have to pass at least six credits every semester, they are required to pass 18 credits each academic year, and they must have at least a 2.10 GPA in their major after completing 80 credits. In addition to the rules imposed by the NCAA, Monmouth University has a policy that it’s athletes complete five hours of study hall every week that class is in session.

While these restrictions may not seem difficult, the amount of time that athletes work on refining their playing skills can negatively impact their school work. “Sometimes the athletic competition, particularly when they’re in season, the demands of it throws that academic and athletic balance out of whack,” said Claude Taylor, Athletics Professor in Residence.

“There are days where you have no time,” said Steve Wilgus, centerfielder for the University baseball team. “You have practice in the middle of the day. You have class all day. Sometimes you have class after practice and then you have to find time to do school work. It is a lot of pressure especially when you get down to this time of year near finals.”

It is crucial for student-athletes to manage their time effectively so that they can complete their academic obligations. “Time management is probably the most important skill for student athletes to learn. Without it, there is no way you can balance everything on your plate successfully,” said Lauren Horner, captain of the field hockey team.

“Time management is the one thing you need to be good at in order to be successful in college,” Wilgus said. “It is only magnified as an athlete because you have a tighter schedule to manage.”

Although some athletes struggle to manage their time correctly and satisfy their academic requirements, Taylor believes that athletes at the University, for the most part, complete their academic duties. Taylor said, “Overall, it is my impression that the vast majority of Monmouth student-athletes handle the demands of academics and athletics very well.”

While academics are an essential aspect of being a college athlete, there are also expectations to act in a courtesy manner off the field while representing their University. “Athletes are a symbolic representation of Monmouth,” explained Taylor.

“Athletic events provide a way for athletes and non-athletes to support teams and feel connected to other students. I think that the athletes are representative of Monmouth both on and off the field,” said Horner. “Athletes are expected to act in a respectful manner because we represent our school. We have encounters with many people from other schools because of the numerous teams we play.”

Even though athletes are exposed to various pressures as a result of playing a sport, it does not necessarily mean that their college lives are more difficult compared to normal students. Taylor described what athletes deal with as a unique situation. “I wouldn’t call it more pressure I would call it different pressure,” said Taylor. “General students have increasingly more pressure on them too. Sometimes they have to pay for school. Sometimes they have family obligations. The different kind of pressure that student-athletes are under is that they have these expectation to physically perform and to practice while also being full time students.”

How student-athletes perform on the field is not indicative of how successful they will be in life. While student-athletes have the responsibility of representing their schools on and off the field, they also should have the desire to learn and grow academically.

Every college athlete has aspirations of playing professionally but that is not a realistic goal for everyone. “Chances are 90 to 95 percent of our athletes will not go on to be professional athletes,” said Bieber. “The vast majority of Division I athletes do not go professional. That being said, the emphasis has to be put on academics with the concentration that you will have a viable career after Monmouth University.”

While being a student-athlete warrants several off the field pressures, if handled correctly these pressures could potentially prepare them for the future.