Making the grade

A USA Today article this week about college athletes being encouraged to pursue easier majors to ensure sports eligibility placed the spotlight on Tech. The numbers showed that 82 percent of juniors and seniors on the football team were MGT majors, compared to only 11 percent for all other upperclassmen, suggesting that NCAA standards and their implementation by the Athletic Association may be doing a disservice to these student athletes.

Tech men’s basketball coach Paul Hewitt said the system forces schools to encourage their athletes to take the “easiest path to eligibility,” a clear indication that NCAA standards—including the 40-60-80 Rule, which states that athletes must have reached senior standing by their fourth year of eligibility in order to play—are warping the system. Hewitt himself suggested that if a coach is “at a Georgia Tech,” the incentive is even greater for him to direct students toward easier majors.

The problem seems to be even greater at Tech because of its rigorous academics, which make the blanket benchmarks established by the NCAA even more unrealistic for student athletes to achieve. At a school where a large portion of students do not graduate in four years, it seems insensible to demand that student athletes progress academically at an even faster pace.

Further, statistics show that “majoring in eligibility” is only a problem in the biggest money-making sports—football, basketball and baseball—implying that Athletic Associations across the nation are placing revenue generation above the well-being of their student athletes. For many student athletes, their future does not lie in a sports career, making it all the more important that they have a profession that they enjoy and can succeed in long after leaving the field.

While Tech had some of the highest percentages for student athletes being clustered in one (easier) major, it should also be noted that Tech is not home to any majors like “poultry science” or “fashion merchandising.” Still, it is the responsibility of the Athletic Association and its academic advisers to provide appropriate guidance to athletes and use the bounty of resources available to them to encourage students to pursue and succeed in any major.

The disproportional percentages, along with comments by coaches and former student athletes, show that there is something within the system that may be encouraging some athletes to follow the MGT major blindly. Tech is in a different academic league. Ensuring eligibility should come second to ensuring the success of Tech students beyond athletics.