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Bobcat student-athletes find support from Athletic Academic Center

By Marc Speir
University News Service
September 17, 2007

The Athletic Academic Center offers tutorial services for upper- and lower-division courses in mathematics, sciences, social sciences and study skills enhancement.
Student-athletes juggle their time between the demands of a rigorous education and staying competitive on the field of play. This can often interfere with what is most important for them once their playing days are through--career preparation for the rest of their lives.

“Obviously, they’re under intense pressure to do well academically and on the field,” said Chris Elrod, director of athletic academics at Texas State University-San Marcos. “After four semesters they need 40 percent of their degree complete while practicing 20 hours a week and traveling all over the conference and country to represent Texas State .”             

The 40 percent rule is part of the 2003 NCAA Academic Reform regulations, a restructuring of the old rules that call for higher standards in grade point averages and a no-exceptions rule to graduate student-athletes within five years.

The stiffer benchmarks of academic performance are what NCAA President Myles Brand calls the most “far-reaching academic reform in decades.” Schools that are unable to meet the standards suffer a loss of funding and resources.

The four semesters, 40 percent rule equates to 52 hours of coursework for most Texas State degree plans, which fall between 128 and 133 hours. This leaves many student-athletes pressed for time if they are to prepare for futures outside of professional sports.

“The vast majority of athletes don’t make it to the next level,” Elrod said. “In the last couple of years we’ve had a handful extend their careers in football and baseball and overseas in women’s basketball and track, but it’s rare.”

Fortunately, there are resources for student-athletes at Texas State in the form of the Athletic Academic Center (AAC) and its many programs. Offering tutorial services for upper-division and lower-division courses in mathematics, sciences, social sciences and study skills enhancement, the AAC also teams with other support groups on campus such as the Student Learning Assistance Center (SLAC) and the Writing Center .

In all sports, freshmen and the majority of transfer students are required to take study hours at the AAC in their first semester. They also attend workshops on test preparation, the nuts and bolts of the college classroom, understanding diversity and the roadblocks to success.

There is strong evidence to support the programs are effective.

“We have the highest graduation rate in the state of Texas for student-athletes at 71 percent,” Elrod said. “The last four semester’s GPAs are the highest on record and they continue to increase with an average for all student-athletes of 2.84.”

Seniors are encouraged to participate in the Life Skills Program (LSP), a career development seminar that discusses how to break into professional fields. Last year’s visiting panel included an elementary school principal, two financial executives, a high school athletic director, a sports journalist and a television producer.

The LSP even hosts an etiquette dinner to ensure student-athletes are comfortable and familiar with standards of conduct at dinner parties.

“We have all these things because our ultimate goal is for them to get a degree that they can take into the real world,” said Elrod. “If they can do that, they’ll be on their way to a brighter future.”