JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

Student Athletes Becoming More Focused on Academic Goals

By Sherry Kughn
JSU News Bureau

February 23, 2004 -- The improvement in grade point averages among Jacksonville State University’s student athletes announced in January came at a time when the National Collegiate Athletic Association was making eligibility requirements relating to grades more stringent.

In light of even tougher requirements, will the upward trend continue? 


Tracy Broom, JSU’s academic advisor for student athletes, hopes so. It is her job to track and monitor their grades. “No one knows for sure what will happen, but the NCAA rules are only getting stricter.”


The new rules mean athletes must stay focused on academics.


Coaches and university officials were delighted with last year’s report of the grade point averages (GPA) for student athletes. In an article on Jan. 8, 2004, JSU’s Sports Information Office wrote that students on the volley ball team had the top overall GPA among 14 intercollegiate sports on campus with a 3.59. Nine of those players had a GPA of at least 3.0 and four had a perfect 4.0.


In addition, the number of athletes who graduated from the class of 1996-97 was a full point higher than that of the national average and was the highest among public institutions in Alabama.  Ten JSU sports had at least one 4.0 student, and the sport of rifle had three students with perfect grades.


The new NCAA requirements specify an increase in the number of credit hours a student athlete must achieve to be eligible to remain in the athletics program.  Before 2003-04 student athletes would have taken and passed at least 25% of their 128 hours of required courses by the fifth semester. The stricter rules raise that number to 40%. (By the seventh semester the percentage moved up from 50% to 60%, and by the start of the fifth year the requirements moved up from 75% to 80%.)


According to Broom, incoming freshmen don’t have much time for electives. In the past, student athletes could postpone declaring their major until at least sometime during their sophomore year. The new rules, according to Broom, have forced student athletes to become more focused on their academic goals.


Not only do new eligibility requirements impact student athletes but they also impact the coaches. “Coaches now recruit for students who have both athletic ability and academic ability,” said Broom. “A lot of credit for JSU’s accomplishment should be given to the coaches.”


Greg Bonds, the Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance at JSU, approves of the Association’s dual emphasis. “I support the new academic reform measures,” said Bonds. “Our goal is to nurture and enhance those academic foundations here at JSU.”


In the past, according to Bonds, grades from high school and test scores were indicators for admittance to college and beyond. The new emphasis by the NCAA is more on helping student-athletes focus on graduation from college.


A new emphasis of the NCAA, too, provides incentives and disincentives that could affect an athletic department. The incentives/disincentives framework rewards institutions and sports teams who improve academic success. Some of the disincentives could be a loss of scholarships for a team or the loss of opportunity to participate in NCAA championships.


Student Shari Riley is a junior from Detroit, Mich., who plays on the women’s basketball team. The NCAA’s dual emphasis fits right into her plans to become a financial planner or real estate broker. “When I first got here,” she said, “academics were my priority. I had always made good grades in high school. When they placed emphasis on good grades here, that wasn’t hard for me to adjust. I was used to playing and studying.”


Not that both pursuits are easy, said Riley. When the team travels, studying gets harder. Homework assignments prepared on a bus or in a hotel room are a challenge. “I study whenever I get the chance,” Riley said.



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