Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Inside the mind of a student-athlete

A view of Sports Business Journal's SBJ/SBD Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in Times Square. (Photo by Jason Schott/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)

NEW YORK -- The Sports Business Journal's SBJ/SBD Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was held last week at the Crowne Plaza Times Square.

Jack Ford, the veteran journalist who played college football at Yale and is a board member of the National Football Foundation, moderated a panel with student athletes and what their college lives have been like.

The panel included the following student-athletes, who are all seniors: Chayse Capps, a gymnast from Oklahoma University; Cassie Pantelas, a golfer from Seton Hall; and three football players,  Brad Lundblade from Oklahoma State; Blaise Taylor from Arkansas State, and Justin Jackson from Northwestern.

Ford opened the panel by saying, "This is one of the special events here. It reminds that all of the conversations when we're talking about the intercollegiate sports landscape eventually focuses on these young people, and oftentimes we don't hear enough from them."

The players were asked to look back on when they were freshmen, and what was different than what they figured it would be entering school.

"For me, it was the time," Jackson said, "I don't think you can really understand how much time it takes to be a student-athlete in college, from the scheduling to the classes to missing classes for traveling, all those things play a part in how much time it takes to be a college athlete."

Pantelas said, "The time events play a huge role into it, and getting used to the position you're now in. Some of us travel out of state to a different school, so just getting used to and understanding the new way of life that you're about to live on your own and being 18 and younger. Being older I can see there are things that are a pretty big adjustment, nothing that a student-athlete can't handle. Those little adjustments sometimes can be hard at that time."

Taylor said, "The biggest thing for me looking back now, when I came out of high school, I was expecting a big university, coming here to play football, school, not realizing how much the community would embrace me and how many connections you would make inside that community. It really almost becomes like your hometown."

Time demands were the biggest adjustment for Lundblade, who said, "I think in high school, and I went to a private high school that had a pretty rigorous academic program so I thought I knew what it had been to balance a lot of time demands. Being a collegiate student-athlete is a completely different deal. It presents a lot of challenges that I had to adjust to."

Capps said, "I completely agree with everything they said. Time management is definitely a key factor into your success as a student-athlete. I was home schooled growing up, so that was definitely an adjustment I had to get used to. Also, the opportunities you're presented. As a freshman, you don't expect to see so many of those, learn how to take advantage of those opportunities presented to you."

Ford picked up on that they all highlighted time demands, and he mentioned how his kids were both Division I athletes and the demands on their time were a lot greater than they were when he was an athlete. He said they also felt like a full student there as well.

On being immersed in the academic community at school," Lundblade said, "I think I was able to balance it pretty well, but there were times where I felt that I wasn't able to experience things a regular student would, as far as getting involved in organizations on campus and getting to know other students around me. I feel like we have a great academic program, we have tutoring and things like that as student-athletes that really help us out, but I found in terms of getting to know other regular students and getting more involved in classes, I found I couldn't be involved in that as I would have liked.

"It's a balancing act," Pantelas said. "Some days you're going to be an athlete, some days you're going to be a student. The way I like to see it is, it's kind of like a triangle where you have to rotate this triangle between social life and academic life and athletic life. When you throw in the social life being a student-athlete, it can be difficult, but I think that's also part of being a student is having a social life as well. Doing the things on campus, organizations, fraternities, sororities, so there are some things that are a little bit different, but you can absolutely find ways to immerse yourself in every opportunity on campus. Seton Hall has great opportunities for us, so I think if you balance it well, you can be a student as well as an athlete."

Ford then asked the panel if they ever got the sense that they were viewed differently, that some viewed them as not real students.

Jackson said, "Obviously as football players, a lot of us are larger, could be the largest human beings on the campus. So, obviously at first sight they're gonna know we're not a normal student there. It is different, like lead different lives as student-athletes. We have a lot more on our plate, there's a lot of things they can do that we can't. It's different. On the one hand, you try to embrace the difference, but on the other hand, sometimes you feel you're not the same as your peers. Professors don't care if you play a sport, they still expect the same out of you as other students."

Lundblade said, "I think sometimes there's a stereotype when it comes to being a student athlete.I think sometimes professors and other students see the academic services and tutoring that we receive. People think grades are just given to us, that we don't have to earn it. I think that sometimes you have to battle it out when you have professors who might look at you differently because you're a student athlete. I've had a couple instances where professors look at you negatively if you're a student-athlete because they may think you don't take academics seriously or because you get extra help, that you're not really earning your grade. They treat you a little differently sometimes."

Taylor said, "A lot of people have perceptions of student-athletes that aren't really true. They think that we get everything handed to us, you're on scholarship, you're not having to pay for school. A lot of people don't understand the time demands that we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and the opportunities we have to pass up because we're student-athletes. A lot of people talk about organizations and things like that. Most organizations meet after class hours, which are in the afternoon, right in the middle of practice. Especially in the season, there's little opportunities for me and the other football guys to get involved in different student organizations and things like that because of our football practice schedule. I definitely think that people sometimes assume that because we have all these resources and help offered to us that we don't have to earn anything.I would really encourage people to take a step back and look at us and view things through our eyes, that it's not as easy as it looks."

Ford said that one of the most striking statistics to him is that the graduation rate for student-athletes is 86 percent, while it is 65 percent for regular students. What can be done to have student-athletes viewed differently?

Lundblade said, "The Big 12 started this campaign called Champions for Life, basically a series of short videos that features student-athletes, telling their stories, how they worked in college, got a degree, and features them as students, not just athletes.It shows the value of the scholarship and the work they put in academically to get to where they are. Something like that can be very powerful, because a lot of times, people see what we do on the field, they don't have the opportunity to see the work put in academically to earn that degree.

Taylor said, "Just letting athletes speak more as students, tell their story, that we're more than just athletes, highlighting their academic achievements. Promoting them more so as students than just student-athletes because student-athletes you can always find highlights of achievements made on the field or on the court, things like that, but I don't think enough attention goes to what is done academically.

Capps said, " I don't think that the professors and the people from the outside, the fans take into account the 20-plus hours on top of the schoolwork, just how much that is. In my sport, in particular not many people continue after college, so many of us there have dreams or aspirations to be something and to have a successful career. So yes, we are student-athletes, but we are also students who focus on academics and we value that opportunity highly and I don't think they take us seriously enough as student-athletes."

Pantelas said,  "Giving a visual representation could be helpful. I know the NCAA, when you come in, you see what the day-to-day life of a student-athlete experience is. It could be helpful to put on paper from Sunday to Monday, visually, what we do on a regular basis. I think some people don't realize to get to practice, traveling to facilities counts as extra time. It might not be time that is documented but that's extra time that we could be studying or things we won't be able to do because of that. I think giving outside bodies the need to see that, just laid out in paper, people would be like, 'wow, that's a hefty amount. I know,  even with golf, when I tell people we play 36 holes a day, it's really from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., they're like ' you don't just ride around in a golf cart?' No, we're walking. I think there's a lot of perceptions that can be changed just by telling our stories, giving visuals and representation of what we actually do in a week or a semester just so people can understand, oh yeah, they're dealing with a lot. We value our education just as much as any other student.

On recommendations to find them for them to experience more student life, Pantelas said, "Maybe not a suggestion, but more of a compromise, because as student athletes, we come here, we train all throughout high school, even in elementary school to be student-athletes, so there is a pride coming here, doing what we're doing in representing the school the best we can. I think it can be where there truly is something to discuss, you can talk to the Athletic Director. I'm fortunate enough to have a great administration (at Seton Hall) that I can go to. If this is important to me, they will get me involved in that. I think it has be that we as student-athletes feel comfortable to express what is important to us. We might need a day off of practice or a couple hour difference here and there in order to manage whatever it is we're getting into. I think it can be more of a compromise between the student and athletic department, just open communication on both ends, expressing what is going to be the best outcome for both sides."

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