They’re called student-athletes, but many people scoff at the first part of that title – the same people who only care about big-time schools that produce professional athletes the way Henry Ford used to produce Model Ts. For those athletes, college is just a pit stop on their way to fame and fortune, although not many of them reach their final destination.
Excellence on the playing field or in the arena gets plenty of notice, especially in the media, but excellence in the classroom is usually ignored, even though that’s supposedly why kids go to college and, in truth, why most of them do. Despite the athlete-first perception that so many hold, the student is more important than the athlete at most colleges and universities, and that includes the University of Delaware. UD had a total of 314 athletes with a grade point average of 3.2 or better this past school year, which qualified them for the Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner’s Honor Roll.
It’s a simple and cold fact that 99 percent of student-athletes don’t go on to play professional sports, even though almost everyone would love to have the glamorous life and fat paychecks that go along with playing in the big leagues. A lot of people think college athletes are Alabama football players or North Carolina basketball players, but the truth is that the vast majority are Delaware swimmers (like Gabby Acker) or tennis players (like Sam Oberholtzer) or cross country runners (like Leanza Lopez) or lacrosse runners (like Andrew Romagnoli). They will never appear on ESPN, they’ll never have to worry about hiring an agent or fending off adoring fans clamoring for autographs. But they did make the CAA Honor Roll and they will leave college with degrees and bright futures in whatever fields they chose.
Many of those athletes will be done playing sports after they graduate – and, of course, all of them will graduate instead of leaving after their freshman years to sign million-dollar contracts. Some will play semi-pro or recreational sports because they love to play and can’t imagine life without participating in their favorite sports. But their days of big-time competition will be over when they leave Delaware and head out into the real world. And they will be much better equipped to deal with the real world than will major-college superstars who have been pampered and protected all of their lives and then discover that their major-league dreams will not come true and maybe they should have taken their studies more seriously, or at least shown up for class every once in a while.
Of course, those athletes don’t have it easy when it comes to balancing the demands of big-time college sports and going to class and doing homework. That was highlighted last week when UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen was quoted as saying “I love school, but it’s hard … Football really dents my ability to take some classes that I need.”
That brought a Twitter response from former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, now a member of the San Diego (sorry – Los Angeles) Chargers, who, while still a Buckeye, once tweeted “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Other than the fact that Jones obviously would have benefitted greatly from going to his grammar classes, his statement illustrates the mind-set of big-time athletes and the media and fans who think big-time is the only time. But for every athlete who goes to college to prepare for the pros there are thousands who go to college because they’re ambitious and hard-working and they appreciate the fact that they get a scholarship in an era when college costs have gone through the roof.
That’s why it’s so encouraging to see so many young people taking advantage of the opportunities given to them. The Honor Roll for the winter and spring sports was released last weekend and Delaware had 118 athletes on the list, which was second in the CAA behind only William & Mary (205).
The UD team with the most Honor Roll athletes overall was football, with 35, but, of course, football has a much larger roster than any other sport. And of the 314 Delaware athletes who earned that distinction, 196 are from women’s teams. Leading the way was the women’s rowing team, which had 34 athletes on the Honor Roll, followed by women’s track and field (34 honorees), women’s soccer (29) and women’s cross country (22).
So, the next time you’re thinking cynical thoughts about college sports and how selfishness and greed have taken them over, remember those 314 Delaware athletes who worked hard in the classroom as well as on the practice field, and feel good about the fact that they will be running the world some day.