USU's 'student' athletes

The running joke — which might not be much of a joke at a lot of schools — is that student-athletes aren’t exactly the brightest, or most motivated, scholars on campus.

At Utah State, Gary Andersen is trying hard to make sure that’s not the case.

I’ve had a couple of conversations recently with people at Utah State, including instructors and athletes, that paint a picture of an environment where personal responsibility is not only encouraged, but pretty much mandated.

“I noticed right away things were different,” said one instructor on the Logan campus. “I have always filled out forms about student athletes and football players, too. No one really ever followed up even if I listed the possibility of failing to be extremely high. That all changed when (Gary Andersen) came to town. Right away I had coaches standing at my classroom door waiting for players to show up at the beginning and then later in the semester showing up during the class-time to see if the player was there or not. I had many players, so I saw many coaches and saw them often.”

Utah State’s team GPA has been on the rise. The academic progress is being marked frequently and coaches are taking a vested interest in making sure the athletes they help bring to campus not only remain eligible, but make strides in the classroom.

The new locker room complex on the north end of Romney Stadium is also a big hit with the athletes. In addition to state-of-the-art technology, the complex has a dedicated study hall where students can focus on academics without some of the other distractions that might buzz around in apartments or even the library.

“It appears things have changed completely in the last few years from an understanding by the players that academics were talked about as being important without any consequences to now being extremely important with huge consequences,” the instructor, who did not want to be identified because he does not want student-athletes in his current classes to think he was talking about them, said. “From my end, it appears to make a difference in these players as students and they are more attentive and do more in the classroom than in the past. Obviously I don’t see too many of them, but in 19 years it seems like night and day from the past.”

Of course, as with all college students, there will be a percentage that do not succeed in the academic environment a college presents. But, from the looks of things, Utah State’s coaching staff isn’t letting the stereotype stick if at all possible.

Another source at USU said the football team had only two players with a GPA lower than 2.0 — the Colleges of Education and Arts would love those percentages — and the support system USU athletics has built certainly plays a role in that. Each athlete, not only on the football team, has academic progress measured often. Those identified as at-risk in any class will have extra study hall time scheduled and coaches, student mentors and tutors will be on hand to assist the athletes and ensure accountability.

Missing a class is noted by the coaching staff and results in required study hall hours added to the schedule. Too many missed classes, regardless of the grade, can result in further disciplinary actions.

“Most players I have talked to are very concerned about making sure they are there,” the instructor said. “I had a coach, when a player wasn’t in class, walk outside the room and call the player and told him he had 15 minutes to be from his off-campus apartment to that classroom and the coach would wait to make sure he showed up.”

When the WAC released its fall all-academic teams, 41 Aggies — including 11 football players — had at least a 3.0 GPA.

Not every football player will graduate. Not every student-athlete will have a 3.0 or appear on the Dean’s List.

But every student-athlete will be provided the tools to do those things. And, from the looks of it, most are taking advantage of the opportunity their scholarship to receive a college education provides.

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