Student Part of ‘Student Athlete’ Still Matters
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — We are closing in on graduation day at West Virginia University, meaning a lot of seniors are entering their final month of college.
Many are athletes.
To gain that degree takes something special, something many don’t understand.
“Not many outside of college athletics understand what it takes to be a student-athlete. The time commitments, the travel and the management skills it takes to balance competition and academics demands a special person,” Director of Athletics Shane Lyons said about a year ago.
It wasn’t always looked upon this way. There was a time when many looked upon college athletes as a group being used by the system, playing for no pay while coaches were made millionaires while given a couple of complimentary cars to drive and tickets to the luxury suites.
There was a time when many didn’t graduate, many who were turned aside if injured or who got great guidance in performing on the field but not off of it.
Times change, though, and athletes today, while still failing to share in the luxuries that come with the games on the professional level unless they are among the very best, are being treated better and given a fair opportunity to be both student and athlete.
And they appreciate it.
A recent study from Game Plan, a one-stop platform for academic and athletic services, entitled 2018 STUDENT-ATHLETE LIFE AFTER SPORT REPORT” surveyed about 200 institutions and found that 95.5 percent of the athletes “would go through the entire experience again if they could.”
You see it every year in student-athletes who stay the course and get a degree.
WVU quarterback Will Grier, who is from Davidson, N.C., graduated in multidisciplinary studies last year after transferring from Florida and remained in school to finish out his career before heading to the NFL.
“Earning my degree from West Virginia University and playing for this University means a lot to me and is something I take a lot of pride in,” Grier said when he received his degree. “This is my family and this place is my home. I love the West Virginia fan base and always will respect and represent the Flying WV!”
And women’s soccer defender Amandine Pierre-Louis was the first in her family to earn a college degree, saying:
“It’s an honor to graduate as student-athletes here at West Virginia University. To be the first college graduate in my family also is a big accomplishment, and I am proud to be a Mountaineer.”
The same was obviously true last month with both Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. as they finished their basketball careers at the school, bending over and kissing the court after walking down the carpet one last time and then going through a gauntlet at the student section to slap high fives with the students as they left the court for the final time.
Perhaps the most touching story was Bruce Irvin’s, who as a youth in Atlanta sold dope, was thrown out of his home, was in a car riddled by bullets, was arrested … yet found a way out.
This year, as he was on the verge of earning a degree, he wrote for a publication called ‘The Players’ Tribune’:
“I mean, I’m about to be a college graduate. I’m scheduled to finish my degree at WVU in the spring. And that’s something I don’t think I would have believed back when I was 17 and homeless — that I would be the first from my family to graduate from college.”
The appreciation is there among athletes, even though there is dirt under the bed with scandals erupting at such places as Louisville and North Carolina where the adults in the mix are lured off the right path by greed and corporate interests.
As for the athletes, the study’s first sentence in its KEY FINDINGS section said it best.
“The overwhelming majority of respondents feel that the student-athlete experience is tremendously valuable.”
That is valuable without earning a large salary, but it also means that graduate college without the large debt in student loans that bog down so many being thrust out into the real world to begin life.
The survey did show that nonetheless the transition period was a tough one for former athletes as 44.1 percent “struggled having lost their sport as a competitive outlet”; 35.2 percent “struggled having lost their identity as an athlete”; and 28.35 percent “felt a lack of support for mentorship during the transition.”
But all you have to do is look at reunions that bring the athletes back together on a yearly basis at most schools and see the enjoyment they have in seeing one another again, reliving old times and discussing new times to understand that the experience may have provided them with the time of their lives.