Student Achievement

For College Athletes, Concern About Balancing Sports, Academics

By Bryan Toporek — April 28, 2015 3 min read
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The average student-athlete in the Pac-12 Conference logs roughly 50 hours per week on athletics during their respective sport’s season, which often adversely affects their academic work, according to a new report commissioned by the conference.

The report, which CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd obtained (it has not been released publicly), surveyed 409 student-athletes from nine Pac-12 universities—excluding the University of Utah, the University of Arizona, and the University of Southern California—about their time demands from athletics. At least one athlete from each Pac-12 sport was included, and the respondent pool was split 50-50 by gender. Their answers revealed a number of troubling findings about student-athletes’ academics-athletics balance, raising the specter of possible reforms in the years ahead.

Currently, the NCAA has a 20-hour limit on required athletic activities on a weekly basis; however, the average Pac-12 athlete reported spending 21 hours a week on such activities. They also claimed to spend an additional 29 hours on other athletic-related things such as voluntary activities, receiving treatment and traveling for competitions, which don’t count under the current NCAA limit.

Four in five Pac-12 athletes reported having missed a class for competition during the 2014-15 academic year, and 54 percent said they did not have enough time to study for tests. “When asked how the athletic season affects their ability to focus on academics, students say they are too exhausted to study effectively, that they are unable to devote enough time to both their academics and tests, and that athletic stress negatively impacts their academic focus,” the report says.

Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who’s helping lead a unionization effort for collegiate student-athletes, testified last year about having to log 50- to 60-hour weeks during training camp on athletics. That commitment prevented him from pursuing certain academic interests, such as attempting to attend medical school or studying abroad, he testified during a National Labor Relations Board unionization hearing.

The idea of a “voluntary athletic activity” appears to be a misnomer for a large percentage of Pac-12 student-athletes, too. Nearly 3 in 4(73 percent) said that team-based voluntary activities were effectively required, and many felt more pressured from coaches than teammates to attend such activities. Some reported coaches taking attendance at voluntary practices, threatening to kick athletes off the team for missing voluntary activities, or punishing the entire team when athletes miss voluntary activities. Sixty-two percent of respondents said making said activities truly voluntary would improve their student-athlete experience.

Having such vast time commitments drastically reduces student-athletes’ opportunity to sleep, the report found. Seventy-one percent of athletes said sleep is the top thing their athletic commitments prevented them from doing, while 55 percent said if they had an extra hour in their day, they would dedicate it to sleep. “Many say they would use a hypothetical 2-3 week break to sleep and physically rest as their bodies and minds are exhausted from the non-stop stress during the competitive season,” the report found.

Beyond making voluntary activities truly voluntary, student-athletes wanted to see non-practice hours extended from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., giving them more time to complete their academic commitments and sleep. They would also like their schools to make it easier on them to find part-time jobs, as their athletic time commitments largely limit them from doing so at the moment.

Whether these findings spark any major reforms remains uncertain at the moment.

“The thing that’s unclear right now is whether that will lead to [NCAA] legislation,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told CBS Sports.

“The main takeaway is—in general—student-athletes are very, very satisfied with their experience,” he added. “They’re pushed for sure, challenged. Sometimes [they] feel like it’s too much.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.