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Student-Athletes’ Hard Work in Classroom Leads to Academic Success as Shown by NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate; Men’s Basketball, Women’s Soccer Score Perfect Multi-Year Rates
Student-athlete Eva Gordon’s commitment to her academics doesn’t take a break while on the road during the busy playing schedule for the women’s soccer team.
Last fall at an away game, Gordon ’18, dressed in her practice gear, took an exam with a proctor at the host school and then headed back to the practice field—all through a coordinated effort with the coaching staff, her professor and the team’s academic coordinator, Lynaye Stone, through the Athletics Department’s Stevenson Educational Center.
“They are really accommodating to our academics,” says Gordon, a child and family studies major in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. “School comes first, regardless.”
Matthew Moyer ’20, a student-athlete with the men’s basketball team, has worked hard his first year to manage his time between his studies in broadcast and digital journalism in the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the basketball court.
“Whenever I have free time, that means I can get something done,” Moyer says. He worked on his schedule with men’s basketball academic coordinator Joe Fields to ensure he has a set study hall time in between classes; meets with professors during their office hours; and maximizes his time to study on weekends outside of practice. “I just try to do my best to set myself up for success.”
Their hard work and discipline—and that of their fellow student-athletes—in the classroom and on the playing fields and courts have led to impressive academic success as reflected in the University’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) announced today by the NCAA.
The APR number, which follows individual student and total program progression at each Division I institution, tracks student-athletes by assigning points for each semester they remain eligible and for staying enrolled or graduating.
Each program at Syracuse surpassed the minimum standard of 930 (a perfect score is 1,000) and most reached much higher. The highlights include the following:
- Fourteen teams had a perfect single-year score.
- Eight teams had perfect single-year scores for three consecutive years.
- Women’s soccer had a perfect multi-year rate for the second year in a row; men’s basketball had a perfect multi-year rate.
- The single-year institutional score of 990 is tied for the highest single-year score on record at the University.
- The multi-year institutional score of 985 is tied for the highest multi-year score on record at the University.
Director of Athletics John Wildhack is proud of the academic accomplishments of the nearly 600 student-athletes at Syracuse University.
“The aspect of my job that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to interact with the student-athletes. The APR scores show the commitment they have to their academics,” Wildhack says. “It shows they are disciplined, that they prioritize and that they place the necessary emphasis on academics.”
The aspect of my job that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to interact with the student-athletes. The APR scores show the commitment they have to their academics.Director of Athletics John Wildhack
Wildhack also credits the work of the coaches and coaching staff and the academic support team—led by Tommy Powell, assistant provost for student-athlete academic development—as critical to helping ensure the academic success of student-athletes. “We’re here to support the student-athletes, but we also hold them accountable for the work they must do,” Wildhack says.
The positive APR scores reinforce the values of the University and its academic mission. “Athletics is just part of the overall ‘One University.’ It’s upon us to uphold the values that the Chancellor and his leadership team have set for the entire university and all its students,” Wildhack says.
Rick Burton, David B. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management in the Falk College and the University’s faculty athletic representative to the ACC and NCAA, agrees that the APR results exemplify the highest goals at the University.
“It furthers the Chancellor’s vision that we create a reality that Syracuse University student-athletes are accomplished both in the classroom and on the athletic fields or courts where they participate,” Burton says. “For me, it’s complete affirmation that our efforts to recruit great student-athletes and then to give them every opportunity to succeed in the classroom is taking place.”
Burton recognizes the work of the academic support team to propel the students. There is “an understanding of what’s needed for a modern student-athlete to be able to marry the demands of being an elite athlete with being a highly competitive student,” he says.
“There’s so much hard work that goes into helping students achieve their goals in the classroom, and to have it verified by the NCAA is just such a great statement about the commitment to academics that we make at SU,” Burton says.
Men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim says his student-athletes, many of whom are the first person in their family to get a college degree, get the message pretty quickly from the coaches and the academic support staff that the emphasis is on academics.
“They understand when they come here they are going to class and they are going to get good grades. Basketball is just two or three hours a day,” Boeheim says. “It’s managing your time making sure you’re doing that little bit every day.” He notes both academics and basketball require practice and preparation. “You have to do it every day and pay attention to it, and then you can have success,” Boeheim says.
A critical element has been the work of Joe Fields, the men’s basketball team’s academic coordinator, who helps student-athletes manage their schedules, facilitates study session on the roads, sets up tutoring, and just spends time with them. “He connects with every player every day, so they understand this is the most important thing,” Boeheim says.
Even if players decide to play professional basketball after graduation or earlier, whether in the NBA, with European leagues or on a development league, at some point they will all enter the workforce after they finish their playing careers, Boeheim says. “We talk all the time—you’re going to be out there another 30 or 35 years in the workplace so it’s important to have your degree.”
When student-athletes, such as men’s basketball players, do leave the University early for an opportunity to start a professional sports career, the coaching staff and the academic support staff have been able to manage early departures in a way that does not penalize the team’s APR score, as per criteria set by the NCAA.
What it means is that student-athletes who depart early for a professional sports career leave the University in good academic health, says Tommy Powell. “That allows the student-athlete to return to SU at any point and finish that degree, if that’s something they desire. And that’s something we encourage and support along the way,” he says.
Powell, who oversees the academic support staff at the Stevenson Educational Center, says his staff builds a supportive foundation in many ways from the beginning with all students. “As a freshman comes into to this system, our goal is to make sure that we do everything we can to ease that transition into Syracuse University and then provide them with great support,” Powell says.
Academic coordinators, along with the students’ academic advisor, help them plan their schedules around practice and games and ensure they are making progress toward their degree. Tutors offer assistance at the center, and study sessions are arranged to ensure time is spent on school work.
Crucial to all of the planning is the commitment by the faculty to the student-athletes. “The faculty members here are just tremendous,” Powell says.
Another element through the Stevenson Center is the S-Project, a life skills program that assists students throughout their time at Syracuse University, with personal and professional development. It includes personal finances, career planning and community service.
The support and programming for the students guides them, but the commitment by the student-athletes is paramount to their success.
“They are going to class every day; they are working hard; they are making those grades; they are going out competing for the University,” says Powell, who notes that the cumulative GPA for student-athletes for fall 2016 was 3.07. “Our job is to support them in a way that they can have a tremendous experience here.”
Football player Sean Avant ’17, who finished a bachelor’s degree in communication and rhetorical studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and is now pursuing a graduate degree in instructional design, development and evaluation in the School of Education, is grateful for the support. He remembers as a freshman practicing speeches for his class in front of support staff at the Stevenson Center and getting tutoring assistance for one particularly challenging class on Greek philosophers. “It made it easier to do the work,” he says.
One year, Avant was recognized as an Academic Warrior of the Month. “For that kind of recognition, I know people were watching me and they were proud of me and the work I put in,” says Avant, who calls the Stevenson center a “second home” where he now enjoys giving advice to freshman student-athletes.
Having the support of academic coordinator Katie Scanlon has been especially helpful for women’s lacrosse student-athlete Haley McDonnell ’17, who is majoring in management and accounting at the Whitman School. In one instance, Scanlon worked with McDonnell on helping ensure McDonnell’s plan for a summer independent study and internship in Florence through SU Abroad could work with her Whitman requirements. “As an athlete you really don’t have an opportunity to do that in the school year,” McDonnell says.
Along with the staff support, McDonnell sets personal expectations for herself at the beginning of the year, such as achieving high grades and forming good relationships with professors. “If you know what you want to accomplish by the end of the semester, you create the roadmap as you go,” says McDonnell, who will be entering a position with Ernst & Young in New York City this summer.
Stephanie Skilton ’17, a member of the women’s soccer team, got a jump on her academics as a freshman by attending the SummerStart program, along with other student-athletes. The Universitywide program allows incoming students to take some credit courses and get an introduction to life at Syracuse University. Skilton, an international student from New Zealand, was a bit nervous coming to a different country, but the program and support from her coaches, teammates and the academic staff made the transition easier.
“We would train every day and then go to classes. And we would have mandatory study hall hours that we had to complete, which was really helpful because we were almost one-on-one with the tutor who helped us with our homework and guided us,” says Skilton, a health and exercise science major in the School of Education.
The discipline learned from mandatory study hall sessions and advice from the academic team to stay proactive with informing her professors about her schedule stayed with her throughout her time at Syracuse. “Having that ingrained in me from freshman year, I’ve been able to work out a balance on my own, holding myself accountable, but it’s been with a lot of help from Stevenson,” Skilton says.
Skilton’s coach, Phil Wheddon, sees the “tremendous dedication and discipline” in the members of the women’s soccer team, which is reflected in the team’s APR numbers.
The continuing high marks represent the competitive nature of the students. “They want to do well on the soccer field but they also want to be successful in the classroom,” Wheddon says. “It builds confidence knowing that everyone on the team is working toward a common goal on the field and off the field.”
The APR numbers also confirm that athletics is bringing in the right type of students who can meet the challenges at Syracuse. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work with them, and I’m thankful for all the support that everyone gives them,” Wheddon says.
For example, he notes the team’s travel schedule can be hectic, but the student-athletes study and do assignments while traveling whether on a bus or plane, and the academic coordinator works closely with the players and their professors to make sure they have the information they need.
“We’re trying to develop well-rounded human beings to be successful in life,” Wheddon says. “We all wish we could play soccer for life; unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. So your passion may be in sports but you know the educational background you get here at Syracuse will set you up for your future.”