Student Athletes in Oregon: Part 1

With the O.J. Mayo at USC controversy and the new Oregon Student Athlete Academic Center, the concept of student athletes and the lives they live has come under the microscope. This two-part piece will take you into the real lives of college athletes in Oregon.

Division I student-athletes are among the nation's highest profile amateur sports stars. Recruited by schools, they are given full scholarships, given tours of athletic facilities and offered academic services to help them with their studies. These local, and sometimes national celebrities are hailed for their in-game performances. They are often overlooked for their work done inside the classroom. Sometimes when their names do come up outside of sports, it's for all the wrong reasons.

For example, Noel Devine is a former All-American high school running back. Both of Devine's parents died of AIDS when he was a child, and Devine was taken in by former NFL star Deion Sanders. This relationship ended when Devine took the former star's Cadillac Escalade without his permission and drove it to the Dallas Airport. Devine left it on the side of the road, and then he flew back home to Florida. One year later, Devine ran for over 600 yards and 6 touchdowns for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Against the University of Maryland he shined as he ran for 136 yards on only five carries. Yet Noel Devine's personal life continues to haunt him. Now a sophomore at UWV, he and three of his team mates were arrested on March 13th of this year. According to ESPN, the police have charged the football players with misdemeanor battery charges after an altercation at a nightclub in Morgantown, West Virginia. This legal entanglement may earn Devine and his team mates suspensions for next season. It also showcases how college athletes make the news for personal misconduct off the field.

Another recent example of negative exposure regarding athletes outside of sports occurred in December of 2007 at Florida State University. A six-month investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) unveiled academic cheating by the football program and other sports. The investigation discovered student athletes and learning specialists were distributing an online quiz with the answer key attached. Other learning specialists were guilty of typing papers for athletes who didn't qualify for academic assistance.

The punishment hit Florida State in the school's athletic moneymaker -- the football team. Two dozen football players were suspended from the team's bowl game against Kentucky. Then a majority of the suspensions were extended into the following season as well. In a press release from the university, the school announced the firing of various academic services employees and vowed to restructure its athletic department. Florida State then beat the NCAA to the punch and put itself on two-year probation.

In that same press release, Florida State outlined some of the specifics of their self-imposed punishment, which included a reduction of athletic scholarships and the loss of eligibility for about 60 of its athletes. Are Florida State's problems common in the world of college athletics?

The NCAA's web site publishes its own research, and a look at the athletic major infractions research data represents the scale of troublesome behavior in college athletics. Since the NCAA began keeping records of major athletic violations in 1954, the NCAA has reported 393 cases of rule infringements among its 11 biggest conferences and members of the Bowl Championship Series. The conference infractions range from 13 by the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in those 54 years to 55 infractions by the Big XII conference in that same time span. How does the Pac 10 Conference compare on this national scale?

With 41 major citations in 54 years, the Pac 10 Conference ranks fourth out of the 11 major BCS conferences. Of those 41 major citations by Pac 10 schools, the University of Oregon is responsible for only two of them. That ties them with Oregon State for ninth in the Pac 10 in major violations behind only Stanford whom has not received a citation since 1954. Arizona State is on top of that list with eight major violations.

The two University of Oregon infractions were within the football program in 2004 and 1981. According to the NCAA's report, the 1981 infraction was for "Improper entertainment, financial aid and transportation; extra benefits; improper recruiting entertainment, inducements, lodging and transportation; academic fraud; eligibility; unethical conduct; outside fund; institutional control." The punishment for the football program was a reduction of scholarships and a one-year ban from the postseason and television. In 2004 the violation was for "Improper recruitment of a junior college football prospective student-athlete and unethical conduct," for which the university was put on two-year probation and the recruitment of that player was terminated.

The University of Oregon and Oregon State University have lower amounts of reported major violations compared to many other institutions their size. What do these two universities do differently with the integrity of their athletic departments? At the University of Oregon, the student athletes, its support services and the athletic department hold each other to standards of quality.

The University of Oregon is well known for building lavish athletic facilities. State of the art locker rooms, indoor practice facilities, and large donations from Nike have created incredible buildings for the athletic department at Oregon. Yet, the Student Services building is not one of the extravagant buildings the school showcases as the best in the country. The Student Services building is adjacent to the 82 year-old McArthur Court basketball arena, and it's a confusing catacomb of offices. Its decades old carpet, outdated paint and excessively warm temperatures show a neglect of donor dollars for the key building for student athlete academics.

This neglect appears to be on the way out, and the University of Oregon is prepared to expand its state of the art athletic facilities. Greg Bolt wrote in Eugene's Register Guard on March 15th that the school is now planning to build a brand new Student Athlete Study Center. The three-story building will sit adjacent to the new basketball arena location, and has been funded by an anonymous donation to the school. The cost of the building is unknown at this time, but the plans released by the university reveal it will be over 30,000 square feet in size. The university is now showing it's serious about the success of the school's athletes inside the classroom and on the field.

The new building won't remedy all the challenges for University of Oregon student athletes, and these students will still need assistance. Dietrich Moore works in the Student Support Services Department for the university, as an academic advisor. He works with student athletes to ensure they meet the institution's academic requirements and those of the NCAA. He also works with athletes to make sure they manage their work loads as student athletes. Moore himself is a former football player at the University of Oregon.

When asked if something like the Florida State scandal could hit the University of Oregon, Dietrich Moore replied, "I do not foresee anything like that ever happening at this institution." Through the university's diligence and regulatory oversight, he believes the University of Oregon has set a very high standard for excellence in athletic support services. The school has an extensive screening and training process for all of its tutors. This training shows tutors how to provide appropriate support that is tailored to the student athlete they are tutoring. Moore spoke about the individual, focused support the school provides to its student athletes. At Oregon, the Student Services Department expects to deal with a wide range of academic abilities of their 500 student athletes. At the institution, all new student athletes, whether they are incoming freshmen or a transfer students, are required to take eight hours a week of supervised study hall their first two terms at Oregon. If after those two terms, a student has met academic requirements, then that student is no longer required to go to study hall.

College athletes receive advising on their school schedule because of the conflicts during the season between class, practices and games. Each sport has different schedules for their season; some sports such as golf operate 11 months out of the year. Athletes organize their school schedules around "travel heavy" times, as Moore explained. Players on a team are encouraged to take a lighter class load during the heavy travel times of the season. During their off-season or during lighter travel times, athletes will take a heavier class load. Academic advisors also suggest online courses to help ease the workload for those busy terms. These online classes are often introductory classes, and examples at the University of Oregon are Economics 202 and Decision Science 240. All scholarship athletes at the University of Oregon are given priority in class scheduling. Regardless of their grade they have senior status for registration, and they are given the first opportunities to schedule for classes before regular students. Yet conflicts in balancing school and athletics still affect some scholarship athletes, even with the early registration policies.

In a discussion with Jack Dukeminier, a freshman golfer at the University of Oregon, he revealed how being an athlete altered his choice of major. He was planning on majoring in physics when he enrolled for his first term of college. As he began looking at the physics classes and talking with his advisors, he noticed that a vast majority of physics classes were only offered in the afternoons. However his golf practices were scheduled for that same time for the entire year, and Dukeminier was forced to change his major to Business because of it.

Moore also explained how college athletes are restricted in their scholastic studies by the NCAA's eligibility requirements. The NCAA requires a student athlete to have a certain percentage of their degree completed each term. This percentage is based on the classes completed towards the degree. The NCAA will not recognize some credits taken outside of college, which can eliminate any AP or college credits taken by student athletes when they were in high school. This requirement can punish athletes who overachieve before reaching college by negating some classes they took in high school.

Moore also asserts that this NCAA requirement forces student athletes to pick a major earlier than they would like, and that many of them are rushed into general education majors like Sociology and Political Science. For example, a student athlete completed some of his or her general education requirements, but he or she hasn't taken any of the pre-requisites of a professional school major. If he or she must have a certain percentage of their degree complete each term they might not take the pre-requisites because those courses wouldn't equal a high enough percentage of a completed degree.

Part two, which will be released tomorrow, will have the conclusion of this article.


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