Student And Athlete? ‘We’re Just Living a Lie’

Tim Goral's picture

Athletes face a steep increase in competition, both athletically and academically, once they make the jump from high schools to NCAA Division I colleges.

Offseason workouts, film study, practices, meetings and more are required of athletes, particularly football and men’s basketball players, to be able to produce on the field and on the court.

But they also are expected to adjust to the academic life of a university, even though those athletes at the state’s two public ACC schools, North Carolina and N.C. State, appear to be entering college less prepared than their freshman counterparts.

“It’s a simple formula. It just doesn’t work at all.” said Mary Willingham, a former reading and learning specialist in UNC-Chapel Hill’s academic support program for athletes. “You’re just trying to cut corners all the time.”

Of the nearly 3,800 SAT scores gathered for first-time, full-time students who entered UNC-Chapel Hill in fall 2011, only 63 scored below a 1,000 combined on the critical reading and math portions.

Football recruits who enrolled at UNC during the 2011-12 school year averaged a 904 on the SAT, according to a report presented to the UNC Board of Governors this month.

The lowest quarter of N.C. State’s fall 2010 freshman class started with a combined 1090 on its SAT.

Basketball recruits who enrolled at N.C. State in the 2010-11 school year averaged a 773.

The SAT isn’t the only factor admissions offices use to judge students’ applications, and the standardized test has been criticized for cultural bias against those who are not white and well-off.

But the test does continue to serve as one gauge for how athletes compare academically to their peers. And in the cases of Carolina and State, their football and men’s basketball players, on average, are arriving on campus with test scores 200 to nearly 400 points short of other freshmen.

The majority of athletes at this level stay within NCAA eligibility standards and graduate at high rates.

But they do so with significant university resources devoted specifically to their education. UNC, for example, uses 13 full-time and 63 part-time employees in its academic support program for student-athletes.

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