“These boys are student athletes. ‘Student’ comes first,” said Samuel L. Jackson as Coach Ken Carter in the 2005 Coach Carter movie (Carter, 2005). Out of the 12,034 students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, about 540 of them are student-athletes. Between being a full time student taking twelve or more credits a semester, practicing three hours a day, lifting weights throughout the week, homework and studying, and having a social life, there is not much in between time in the life of a student-athlete.
Being organized, keeping a schedule and being motivated are key to being able to manage all that. There are many policies, rules, and expectations each student-athlete must achieve to be able to suit up and play as a Warhawk. So how do student-athletes manage their time and keep up with the rules and policies of being a student-athlete?
The student-athletes at the UW-W must follow the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Intercollegiate Athletics Student-Athlete Handbook. It explains the policies and expectations placed on them as a student-athlete. The mission statement listed is:
“The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Intercollegiate Athletic Department will contribute to the educational process of our students by providing an environment that supports the mission of the University and a quality intercollegiate athletic experience. An integral part of this mission is the development of accountability through personal commitment and choices with regard to the ongoing health of those in our care. We support the Division III philosophy that student-athletes are indeed students first, athletes second and therefore, earning a baccalaureate is paramount. Excellence in academics and athletics is an expected result of the Warhawk athletic experience” (Student-Athlete Handbook).
There are several sections to the handbook that break down every aspect needed addressing. Under the ‘Team Rules and Discipline’ section, it states that head coaches may set own team rules while also being responsible for the rules provided by the Athletic Department. As an enrolled student-athlete they are expected to adhere to both the coach’s rules and expectations along with the rules and regulations of the WIAC and NCAA (Student-Athlete Handbook).
The basic most important and common rules and policies each student-athlete much follow academically wise include:
- Follow all NCAA, WIAC, and UW-W rules and regulations
- Must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credits each term
- If student-athlete drops below 12 credits during a term (during that term) they will become ineligible
- At the end of first semester freshman year, he/she must earn at least 9 credits in order to participate in the spring
- Reach and maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA
While student-athletes worry about following and achieving these rules and policies, they also have many other stressful situations to control.
I had the opportunity to sit down and interview three of the women’s UW-W basketball players, Amy Mandrell, Katie Burton, and Mary Merg who are all seniors this year. Mandrell will be graduating this year with a communications major and marketing minor. Merg will also be graduating with a history major. Burton has another year yet to finish her special education major. These three girls are not just on the basketball team together, they have been together and roommates since freshman year. Their bonded friendship continued on and off the court.
As being teammates, friends, and roommates, they shared common difficulties managing their time. The girls had a large advantage of being on the basketball team and living together because they were able to help each other out achieve the goals and follow the rules of being a student-athlete. They were all going through the same thing.
Merg stated, “If one student-athlete fell short of the requirements then the entire team fell short. It tied into if one falls, everyone falls. We are a team and we have to stick together, so we have to make sure that academics are definitely the be-all end-all of your athletic career.”
I also had the opportunity to sit down with Leah Harms, UW-W marketing coordinator for the athletic department. Harms’ handles all the marketing for all twenty sports here at UW-W and was also a student-athlete for the women’s basketball team at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Harms was able to give all the policies, expectations, rules, and overall idea of what it exactly takes to be a student athlete. She is not just the marketing coordinator; she is also another mentor for the student-athletes due to her background.
“I am here for these student-athletes to help them in any way possible. If it is from helping them schedule out their classes and days or listening to being over stressed about something, I am always here” Harms told me. She loves to travel whenever possible with the sports teams to the season games, regional games, final four games, and most of all the championship games. Harms is a huge Warhawk fan.
“Having to first figure out your classes around a 2-5 P.M. schedule that you couldn’t run into anything, it was really hard I had a lot of 8 A.M. classes and night classes are regular for student-athletes” Mandrell stated. Student-athletes have a very stressful and important schedule to maintain. When scheduling for classes, student-athletes must keep in mind and schedule around the allotted time their coach said for practices and lifting weights. Practice is usually three to four hours a day.
Scheduling classes is very difficult when you are searching around the time frame of practice because some classes may run into practice or start towards the end of practice or are only offered during that time. Being a Division III school, student-athlete’s do not have priority when it comes to scheduling for classes. When a class is filled, it is filled and being a student-athlete does not give you an advantage to get into that class over other students (Harms, 2014).
Scheduling for classes to go around practice time slots is just one of the many struggles with student-athletes daily schedules. They also face having to find time to do their homework, read book chapters, write paper, study for exams, attend group meetings, and any other outside class related work.
Besides classes, homework and practices, student-athletes want to fit time in for socializing and enjoying college with their friends (Merg, 2014). On top of all those activities in one day, finding time to sleep is another struggle. Burton stated, “Sleep a lot! Sleeping is something that every student-athlete misses out on. Sleep whenever you can, but don’t forget your homework.”
Most student-athletes days are consistently the same throughout the week and then week after week. They wake up, have morning weight lifting, go to classes back to back to back where they grab a quick bite to eat somewhere between their classes so they aren’t late for practice. They practice with the team for two to three hours to where they either have study table right after or run home to shower and start their homework.
By the time they are done with all that, it is usually late and time to sleep. The next day they just repeat it all again. Socializing with friends is hard for student-athletes; it is usually done during classes, between classes, at practice or while they are getting their homework done (Burton, 2014).
Not only are student-athletes required to attend all classes and no skipping without approval from their coach, they must sit in the front row of the class. Mandrell talked about her coach and how she always said that ‘she has eyes and ears around this campus’.
Student-athletes are expected to keep their grades up, keep in touch with their professors, sit in the front of class and attend all classes throughout the semester. If they fail to follow those simple yet demanding rules, there were punishments for the entire team at practice (Mandrell, 2014).
Missing classes for a sports related event is taken serious and there are measures taken to prevent student-athletes from missing classes. At the beginning of each season, student-athletes are informed to advise their professors of possible schedule conflicts because of athletic participation.
If one student-athlete must miss class due to a contest, they must receive a written excuse from their coach so they may present it to their instructors and professors (Student-Athlete Handbook). Student-athletes are also advised to meet with their professors before hand to discuss any work they may miss and how they will be able to make it up. It is at the instructor’s discretion as to how the student-athlete can make up the missed work.
Failure to follow the procedures could result in the student-athlete receiving disciplinary action (Student-Athlete Handbook). Student-athletes may not be penalized for missed class time if they follow these procedures due to it being an ‘excused absence’ in the UW-W faculty handbook.
GPA (Grade Point Average)
“GPA holds a lot of weight for student-athletes”, Harms stated. There are many rules and specifications to a student-athlete’s GPA. By the start of the student-athlete’s second season, they must earn twenty-four credits and earn a cumulative GPA of 2.0. By the start of a student-athlete’s third season, they must earn forty-eight credits and earn a cumulative GPA of 2.0 again. By the start of a student-athlete’s fourth season (their final season), they must earn seventy-two credits and still earn a cumulative GPA of 2.0 again (Harms, 2014).
The student-athlete will become ineligible if he/she fails to meet the credit or the GPA standards. If a student-athlete becomes ineligible, he/she is still able to practice but may not compete. The student-athlete will stay ineligible until he/she can obtain the credit or the GPA standard.
GPA is taken very serious for student-athletes. As the NCAA or WIAC keeps the GPA standard to be a 2.0 throughout the student-athletes ten full time semesters (4 seasons), head coaches may set a different GPA standard for each individual student-athlete or a team GPA or both.
Mandrell stated, “Grade checks are twice a semester that the coaches ensure that the players are staying caught up and attending classes and doing their job.” If a student-athlete drops their GPA below the 2.0 standard, they may take a winterm classes or summer classes to raise it back up before the season starts back up that spring or fall (Harms, 2014).
As a freshman student-athlete, they are required to attend weekly study tables for the entire semester regardless of their GPA. As they continue their education and gain credits and have a manageable GPA, study tables become an option then and not mandatory anymore.
Study tables are helpful because it forces them to do their homework rather than procrastinating on it, although, it is usually right after a two to three hour practice where you have to sit for two hours working on homework. “Sometimes I just want to go home, shower, eat, and take a half hour nap to just relax after practice before doing my homework. But having mandatory study tables pushed all that back for two more hours,” Merg stated.
Burton joked, “Now I get to sit there in my sweat, starve, and try to focus on my homework.” Study tables were helpful at the time but it mainly taught them to do their homework and keep their grades up so they were able to do whatever they pleased after a long night at practice.
Being a student-athlete has its pressures and stressful times, but overall it is worth it. They are able to build a bond with their teammates that some call a family. They are able to experience championships that other students will never understand. They also focus hard on their education forcing them to achieve more than some students may never be able to achieve.
Between scheduling their classes, sitting in the front row in each class, keeping in touch with professors throughout the semester, keeping up with homework, attending mandatory practices, traveling for contests, and having a social life with friends; student-athletes find a way to do it all. Student-athletes may have a rough time scheduling their days and face some struggles keeping a certain mandatory GPA and gain a certain number of credits, but they learn how to manage it all. Being a student-athlete is worth it all.