In the 2011-2012 academic year, UW athletes involved in NCAA sanctioned sports brought in an average GPA of 3.04. That’s the highest GPA in a decade, and it’s even higher than the general student body average. Wyoming Public Radio’s Sara Hossaini reports.
SARA HOSSAINI: Women’s basketball forward Chaundra Sewell is a fan favorite with nearly a thousand points scored at UW. She’s also a pharmacy student with a 4.0. She says that academics are more important to her than athletics.
CHAUNDRA SEWELL: I always knew I was gonna go to college. As far as playing basketball in college I wasn’t too sure about.
HOSSAINI:Sewell says her high school coach encouraged her to play in college because so few women have the opportunity to play Division 1 basketball. And her coach here at UW assured her that education would come first.
SEWELL: He made it very clear to me that basketball, although it’s near the top of the list it’s not the top as far as priorities go. And I really like that because I know for me personally basketball, if I don’t go on to play professional here soon, it’s probably gonna end here and so my education’s what’s the most important now.
HOSSAINI: Sewell says it can be tough to succeed academically, but athletes don’t have to do it on their own. All players get customized help from academic advisors who are there just for the athletes. Sara Ray is one of those advisors.
SARA RAY: You have your athletic coaches and we’re kind of like the academic coaches.
HOSSAINI: Ray is the Assistant Athletic Director for academic services. Her department provides student athletes comprehensive range of free, sometimes mandatory, services…A private computer lab, one-on-one tutoring and study hall. They’re also assigned a coordinator, like Ray, who ensures they are doing well enough to meet NCAA academic requirements.
Ray admits that the GPA requirement isn’t very steep.
RAY: The GPA requirement for freshman is a 1.8 after their freshman year, after the second year, it’s a 1.9, and every year after that it’s a 2.0.
HOSSAINI: Ray says that while some teams tend so do exceptionally well in the classroom, like women’s volleyball, which has an average team GPA of 3.6, others, like football and men’s basketball are much lower. She says freshman from those teams are automatically considered academically at-risk, no matter what their high school grades, and are entered into every service possible.
Senior football captain Luke Ruff says it’s challenging to maintain good grades because there’s so much pressure on players to be great athletes.
LUKE RUFF: You’re going from maybe a smaller school or maybe a smaller town and you’re coming in and you play in front of 10,000 people, or for football maybe 25-30,000 people. And obviously you wanna focus your entire time and energy on your sport because that’s what you want to do.
HOSSAINI: Ruff is an engineering student with a 3.6 GPA who loves his major.
RUFF: Engineering is prestigious, you know, you get looked at as the nerd, which is great. Nerds rule the world.
HOSSAINI: That’s not to say he hasn’t seen fellow players struggle, even drop out.
Still, the athletic department says its academic support helps ensure that not too many athletes flounder. The department spends more than a million dollars year on academic support. That’s despite the fact that the athletic department barely breaks even.
Which raises the question—why all of the extra money to ensure that athletes make the grade? Ray says it’s part of college culture.
RAY: They are ambassadors, they are a face, they represent the university.
HOSSAINI: And she says helping them succeed academically is one way to ensure that it’s a positive face.
For Wyoming Public Radio News, I’m Sara Hossaini.