(Source: David Morrison News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. (MCT) — In her 15 years of working in college sports, N.C. State associate athletics director Carrie Leger has found one thing to be true about student-athletes when they enter school.
They’re not so different from the rest of the student population when it comes to picking a course of studies.
Some know exactly what they want to do. Some have no idea. Some think they know what they want to do but soon realize it’s not right for them.
“If you need a 3.0 (GPA) to get into business and you have a 2.3, we need a Plan B,” said Leger, an associate AD for academics and student services. “We want them to chase the dream, but we want Plan B ready so they can be making good progress toward graduation.”
In other respects, student-athletes’ academic pursuits differ greatly from the general population.
Games, practices, workouts and meetings must be worked around, along with the fact that an athlete has less wiggle room to change majors once he or she picks a path.
To retain eligibility, the NCAA mandates an athlete have completed 40 percent of his or her degree requirements by the start of the third year of college, 60 percent by the start of the fourth and 80 percent by the start of the fifth.
“It makes student-athletes less willing to take a chance,” said Jane Caldwell, associate AD for student-athlete academic counseling at Wake Forest. “I understand what the NCAA is trying to do, setting people up with a good chance at graduation, but I think it causes the great students to kind of limit what they’re doing.”
Academic pursuits by athletes in high-profile sports have earned attention recently because of fraud issues, involving athletes, uncovered inside North Carolina’s African and Afro-American Studies Department.
A review of majors listed in last year’s media guides from Duke, UNC, N.C. State and Wake Forest reveals football and men’s basketball players trend toward three main categories: communications, sport management or science or social sciences.
Sport researchers have a term for student-athletes at a school gravitating toward a certain major: “clustering.” Researchers view this in two ways.
One blames coaches or other administrators at a school for steering athletes toward courses that will keep them eligible to compete.
The other sees clustering as the natural result of a like-minded student population seeking out majors that reflect its interests.
“We don’t direct athletes. But I’m not silly and don’t think other student-athletes spread the word,” Caldwell said. “Comments from kids really impact what’s going on.
“When people are intentionally funneling people to places, that’s wrong. When people make choices based on their strengths, you have to go with your strengths.”
Leger said coaches at N.C. State play a “support role” in a student’s academic life, backing up decisions of the student services department or helping break bad news when the time comes.
“They may help support us if we have a student who, say, thinks they’re going to be an engineer, but hasn’t successfully completed math,” Leger said.
The two most popular majors for Tar Heels football players last year were exercise and sport science (35.3 percent of players with majors listed in the media guide) and communication studies (27.9 percent). Four of nine basketball players (44.4 percent) with listed majors were also in communication studies.
Harold Woodard, the associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, said those numbers mirror the rest of UNC’s student-athlete population, with exercise and sport science, communications and business administration as the top three majors.
Biology is the most popular major across the entire student body, followed by journalism and communications.
The communications major has four concentrations, and director of undergraduate studies Michael Waltman said the largest proportion of students is in media studies.
That could set them up for a career like, say, ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, a 1987 UNC graduate.
“One of the things that distinguishes humanities from a professional school is you’re going to really have a broad curriculum to choose from,” Waltman said.
“I try to get people to think about what careers they’d like to have and then see how different kinds of courses can blend together to give them the kind of background to help them get the kind of job they’d be interested in.”
The exercise and sport science department combines elements of athletic training, fitness and sports administration into one major.
Its core classes touch on anatomy, physiology and care of injuries and illness.
Deborah Stroman, a professor in the administration concentration, said the major can be an attractive one for athletes who are interested in learning more about how their bodies work.
Or, in her specialization, the workings of a front office.
“Our major is pretty rigorous,” Stroman said. “We have a lot of students who will say they’re interested, declare it, then after a few courses say, ‘OK, I can’t keep this going.’”
Of course, that doesn’t stop the misconceptions.
“As long as we have the word ‘exercise,’ or ‘athletic’ or ‘sport’ related to our field,” Stroman said, “you’re always going to have people who think we’re just rolling balls over here.”
The Wolfpack football team had 17 majors represented among its 49 players with majors listed, with 10 (20.4 percent) in sports management.
The sport management track is under the purview of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management department and emphasizes careers in sports agencies, programs and facilities.
A degree requires 38 hours of in-major courses on subjects such as marketing, law and finance, plus an eight-hour internship credit.
“Most of our students have been active in sports growing up, or they have just a passion for the sports world,” said Candace Goode Vick, department director of undergraduate programs. “They’ve decided they want to work for an agency that provides services in the sports world.”
The Wolfpack also had 14 players listed in N.C. State’s first-year college, a program for undecided undergraduates that puts a premium on learning about possible majors while taking the general education courses also needed for graduation.
“Our goal is that, by the end of their first year, they feel pretty decided,” Leger said.
The Blue Devils’ football team has the heaviest concentration in the social sciences, with sociology (13 of 57 listed, 22.8 percent) and public policy studies (10 , 17.5 percent) leading the way.
Sociology majors need to pass 10 courses in their major for a degree, with four required and six electives.
One of the electives is a “senior research experience” to be completed with the consent of a professor.
The public policy analysis major at Duke includes eight required courses and four electives, one of which has to be a graduate-level course.
It also includes an internship, usually completed the summer before a student’s senior year.
Blue Devils offensive lineman Dave Harding, who led a group of 10 teammates on a well-digging mission to Ethiopia in May, is a public policy major.
“Athletes who do public policy, it’s got to be attractive to them for a substantive reason, because it’s difficult to do that,” said Ken Rogerson, the department’s director of undergraduate studies. “We have a good relationship with people in athletics and try to work with any athlete who wants to do this, but there are fairly vigorous requirements.”
The Demon Deacons’ football team had 34 of 55 players (61.8 percent) with majors listed in the communication department, along with three of seven (42.9 percent) basketball players.
Caldwell said the university has 37 majors to choose among, significantly fewer than larger institutions, and many student-athletes pursue minors with their majors.
She said a good number of athletes are attracted to communication for the media studies aspect, much like at UNC.
Wake Forest communication majors take at least 30 hours in the department, with three required courses and five more in a concentration, if they choose one.
“Team sportstalent is helpful, heaven knowsbut getting teamwork to happen is another matter,” said John Llewellyn, an associate professor in the department. “Athletes see both successes and failures in a different way, maybe even more starkly than other students would.
“What’s true for a lot of students, including athletes, I think they just get it.”
Contact David Morrison at 373-7008 or email@example.com
©2012 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)
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