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College Athletics: Social and Academic Effects

The effect of sports on students in college is a frequently discussed issue.  There are in fact many things that play into the effect sports might have on a student's GPA. There is a ton of research concerning high school and the effect of participating in interscholastic sports.  Generally, it is concluded that participating in sports in high school has many positive effects. Students are more dedicated to their schoolwork to meet required GPSs, stay healthy and fit, and are often less likely to get in trouble. College, however, is an entirely different ballgame.  

While college sports are a huge commitment, there are many positives to participating.  College athletes have coaches to act as parent-like figures looking out for them.  Playing college sports keeps them on track.  Most student athletes at Division 1 schools are given tutors to help them with their assignments.  Many colleges require their athletes to have minimum GPAs, but they do not have to do as much work as quickly.  The NCAA requires athletes to earn at least six credit hours each term to be eligible to play the following term.  But athletes are often allowed to spread this out over five years as opposed to four.  This allows them to “redshirt” their freshman year, or if they are injured for one year, it allows them time to recover.  This is another benefit for freshman so that their bodies have time to adjust to the level of college athletics.

Another benefit of college sports is that most student athletes have healthy social lives.  Sports teams kind of become a permanent group of friends and family.  It is very easy to become close to and bond with people who are enduring the same things that you are: early morning workouts, missed work, long days of travel.  Their love for the same sport also makes it easy to bond.

When interviewed, four student athletes ranging from top Division I schools to Division III schools all pretty much said the same thing about their social lives: Michael Chiaravalloti, a former baseball player, was interviewed in a study performed at Molloy College for their newspaper.  He was a student athlete at Iona College, a Division I school. When asked by Michael Braun, the author of this article about his social life, he responded:


Michael Chiaravalloti:

“If I told you we didn’t party, I would be lying, but we definitely keep ourselves on a tight leash. Being a student athlete, you understand that it’s not just you that you have to worry about; it’s the guy next to you, the coaches who put the time in, the kid on the bench who would kill to be in your shoes. You control yourself for them; you don’t take that shot or challenge the bouncer at the bar for them. You have a responsibility regular students just don’t have.”


This quote drives home a really important message that is also an important message for college students.  There is a general lack of accountability in college.  There is no one there to yell at you if you don’t go to class because you slept in or did not do your work.  But belonging to a sports team makes up for that accountability, which could be useful.  Emeka Ndichie a current football player at Villanova, said this when asked about his daily structure in college, “I think playing football at Villanova gives me a kind of structure and discipline in my life that I wouldn’t have if I was not a student athlete.”

A deal breaker for many students is the funds they are enabled to receive from sports.  1 Billion dollars in scholarships is given each year to student athletes in Division I and Division II schools. There are scholarships offered in 24 different sports across the country.  In addition to getting a free or partially free education, the NCAA just recently passed a law requiring all Division I athletes be given free food in unlimited portions as many times a day as they would like.  For some athletes, this changes how they play because they came from underprivileged backgrounds and were not properly fed throughout high school.  Unlimited amounts of healthy and nutritious food could aid them and help them make huge strides in their game.

While there are indeed many positive sides to playing a college sport, there are also several negatives and other factors to consider.  A huge academic factor in college is missing class time.  The class time missed ranges from sport to sport.  In the same study mentioned before, the two  football players missed minimal classes from game travel because games were played on Saturdays and teams traveled on Friday night.  Baseball and softball players are not as lucky.  Their practices can often interfere with classes.  Softball and baseball games are often not on Saturdays; instead, they occur throughout the week. Having a game on a Wednesday means an athlete would probably miss class Tuesday, Wednesday, and part of Thursday.  In the moment, it might seem nice to miss lectures, notes, and annoying labs.  But throughout the season it becomes a lot of missed work.  Many teachers often treat athletes well and give them extra help and extensions, as it is University rule at all NCAA schools to excuse all athletes from missed classes and assignments for sports events.  Even so, some teachers are not accommodating to athletes.  

Disturbingly, the rate of depression in college athletes is high.  In a study performed by Drexel University and Kean University, 465 student athletes were surveyed at an anonymous Division I college over three years.  Disturbingly, one fourth of the students reported to be depressed in the study.  It was also found that female athletes were two times more likely to experience symptoms.  Earlier this month, the NCAA Sports Science Institute released some new guidelines that instructed colleges on how to support their students who were depressed.  Another one of the problems is how athletes would be viewed if they were to ask for help.  Linda Flangan interviewed several college athletes who were depressed.  Her findings are frightening.  One student from Syracuse, who was a football player, recalled a drill the team did that made him consider suicide.  He quotes, “He hit me back so hard,  And I just started tearing up. If I’d had a gun, I’d have probably put a bullet in my head.”  He also discusses the difficulty he had in asking for help. “It was very hard, as a man playing D1 football, to go to somebody and say ‘I’m having a hard time’,” Meldrum said.  This is not only one case of depression in college athletes.

Another chilling case of depressed athletes occurred at University of Pennsylvania.  This case, however, was much more tragic than the previous.  Madison Holleran had a seemingly perfect life.  She was beautiful and talented.  She had a passion for soccer, but was also a state champion track runner.  When UPenn recruited her to run track, she promptly accepted the offer, excited about the opportunity a scholarship at one of the best schools in the country had to offer her. The pressure of academics and athletics got to her.  She would look at upperclassmen’s instagrams and be jealous thinking to herself, “This is what my college experience should be like.”  She wasn’t happy, and was cracking under the pressure of trying to balance the different aspects of her life.  On January 17, 2014, after leaving each family member a present, she jumped the nine stories from a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. Madison Holleran’s death created awareness for the struggle some college athletes face.  The Madison Holleran foundation was started after Madison committed suicide, with the goal of helping all college students, particularly athletes, get the help they need and realize that they are not alone in how they are feeling.  

In conclusion, playing college sports comes with many positive and negative effects.  Sports provide an easy transition into a new school environment and an immediate group of friends and family.  Athletics do put a lot of pressure on academics and social lives, but overall, with proper support and balance, the benefits of athletics do pay off.


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