January 28, 2014

EDITORIAL: A Call to Change the Academic Policy for Athletes

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In a piece for The Huffington Post this month, “Ivy League Quitters: The Costs of Being an Ivy Athlete,” University of Pennsylvania junior Jennie Shulkin criticized athletic departments throughout the Ivy League for cultivating environments that drive a number of students to drop athletics to salvage their academics. At Cornell, the Red is not immune to the problems of its Ivy counterparts, with some of its student-athletes struggling to balance athletics and academics. University Athletics adheres to policies in which there is a discrepancy between Cornell’s grade point average minimum for good academic standing and the GPA at which the NCAA deems students eligible to participate in athletics. We believe Cornell Athletics should require student-athletes to meet the University’s minimum GPA. We also encourage athletics to provide more services to pinpoint and assist those student-athletes who are in need of additional academic support.

At Cornell, the minimum GPA for a student to be in good academic standing is a 2.0. Students who fall below the cutoff may be required to take a leave of absence or permanently withdraw. As outlined in the Cornell University Athletic handbook, Cornell Athletics adheres to NCAA guidelines that set provisional play eligibility at a 1.8 GPA for sophomores and a 1.9 for juniors — both of which are below the University’s minimum. While we understand that the time commitment required to be a student-athlete can be much greater than that faced by other full-time college students, permitting student-athletes to compete even after they fall below University-approved GPAs sets a bad precedent: stating that athletic competition is valued more highly than education. We encourage the Cornell Athletics department to challenge its own student-athletes to maintain good grades from the onset.

Currently, Cornell Athletics does provide support services for athletes, such as academic counseling, tutoring services, laptops for travel, study skills workshops and a study room in Bartels Hall. But according to some varsity athletes who are still active in their sports, the problem with these optional programs is that those who could most benefit often do not seek them out. Some have said that the support services provided are not always widely used — and meetings with Cornell Athletic Student Services are only mandatory after an athlete has fallen below the accepted University level.

We believe Cornell University Athletics should implement policies to proactively pinpoint and assist struggling students, rather than wait to address their academic problems until they have been put on academic probation by the University. The Athletics Department should encourage its coaches to play a more active role in checking in with their players to ensure that they are both academically and athletically successful, and should increase its communication between Cornell Athletic Student Services and student-athletes.

We recognize that there are many athletes at Cornell who are able to excel in both athletics and in the classroom, and who have maintained solid GPAs throughout their four years on the Hill. But more can be done for their teammates who are struggling. We encourage Cornell to require that athletes be in good academic standing to maintain their eligibility, and to better locate and assist athletes experiencing difficulties before a problem occurs.