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Grades Should Matter: Why Athletes Must Be Students First

At Berkeley High School, an athlete must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average in at least four classes and have no more than one F in order to be eligible to participate in the athletic program. The policy is not for BHS to decide, — it is under the jurisdiction of the California Interscholastic Federation. Still, its merits are up for debate. For some, the code represents a hindrance towards pursuing a career in athletics. Others view the rule as an insurance that student-athletes receive the necessary education to succeed in their life beyond their athletic career.

For those who believe athletic eligibility requirements impedes their ability to advance in their sport, a harsh reality awaits. Such an athlete, presumably elite due to their intention of realizing a career in the sport, will likely attend a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I university. At that level, the grade requirements are notably higher.

Pursuant to a 2012 rule change, the minimum high school GPA to play collegiate sports is 2.3, and ten of the sixteen required core high school classes must be completed before a student’s senior year.

Once arriving at college, all student-athletes must complete twenty percent of the necessary coursework for graduation each year while sustaining a sufficient GPA to graduate from that institution. BHS is a quality high school, but it is still ludicrous to believe that a student unable to achieve the very lenient regulations here will be able to succeed academically in higher education. Not only is the coursework substantially more difficult, collegiate athletics consume virtually all time not spent in a classroom.

Honestly, that is the way it should be. It is, after all, student-athlete. The legendary NCAA advertisement highlighted this, with the tagline, “There are over four hundred thousand NCAA student athletes, and just about all [student-athletes] will be going pro in something other than sports.”

For the vast majority of college athletes, it is a fact that their future profession will rely heavily on their education. Therefore, the emphasis must be placed on academic performance, not on wins and losses in athletics. If an athlete decides their schoolwork is superfluous to their immediate goals, they damage their future possibilities.

Nevertheless, for some, the student-athlete phase is solely an inconvenience on the way to the ultimate goal, professional sports.

For those seeking a career in sports, there seems to be no use for reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic.

However, for all major sports in the US, it is required that prospects complete high school, and many mandate a partial college education as well. Academic eligibility standards can feel superfluous because they are wholly invested in their professional goals. On the other hand, this short term goal neglects to consider the time after they can no longer play sports.

Some feel it is unreasonable to expect student athletes to both play at an incredibly high level and maintain above-average grades. Collegiate sports can take up as many hours as a full-time-job, which is on top of the athlete’s schoolwork.

The average division 1 Football player spends 44.8 hours per week practicing and playing games. A full time job only takes up 40 hours a week. Division 1 athletes have situations that are not equal to that of their peers.

For starters, on an athletic scholarship there is no need to actually work a job. College athletics generate an exorbitant amount of money, so universities make certain that all athletes are able to play. Therefore, they receive an academic support system rivaled by none. There are people employed by every institution whose job it is to ensure that each athlete remains eligible.

Universities understand this. UC Berkeley (CAL),  is under pressure for not graduating a sufficient number of student-athletes, and as a result, raised its GPA threshold to 3.0 for 80 percent of incoming recruits. Additionally, they  improved the Athletic Study Center by increasing the number of full-time learning specialists who help athletes navigate school.

In taking these actions, Cal reaffirmed the notion that athletic eligibility requirements are important to them. While frustrating for the player in the short-run, the requirements will not only provide long-term benefits, but are worth sacrificing athletic performance to achieve.Even more so in high school, where a much smaller percentage of student-athletes have a prospective future in professional athletics. An even smaller number are capable of supporting themselves with their salary, due to the small contracts awarded to rookies, especially given the wide range of league qualities, and the corresponding incomes. Most sports do not pay enough to support their athletes on their own. Outside of the major sports of football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, players are paid drastically less. The average men’s lacrosse player made only $10,000-$30,0000 a year. Large salaries are the exceptions, not the rule in professional sports, and athletes need to prepared for the worst. That preparation starts with school.

In the four major American sports, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, the longest average career is found in baseball at a measly 5.6 years.In football, one can expect their professional playing career to last just 3.5 years. It is absurd to imagine how any individual whose career is of this length will reach their life expectancy without a supplementary income. Their playing days over, those who chose to emphasize athletics over academics will find they lack the prerequisite qualifications.This is not to devalue athletics, for the perseverance, leadership, time-management, decision-making, and teamwork skills obtained through athletics is invaluable, which is why sports receive their prominence in education. However, this is with one caveat. These skills are useless when not in conjunction with an education. Sure, that pesky GPA requirement may prevent an athlete from playing, but they will be a better student, and thus person, for it.