No class, no play
Published: Monday, November 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 17:01
In the foyer of Fondren Science Building, student-athletes stop on their way to large general education lectures to give their autographs to other students waiting on them there. This daily routine, however, is not a mark of fame, and those students sitting on the white benches waiting for the athletes to walk through aren’t exactly fans. One signature before class and one afterward won’t raise thousands of dollars for charity. It will only prove to coaches that student-athletes are attending class.
Some students feel they are being held back by this class checking system, which the university has adopted to help students be more responsible. An SMU student-athlete who says she cannot be identified because of possible consequences from the athletic department says class checking encourages students’ academic progress, but feels it’s a hassle.
“I wouldn't want a class checker if I was a regular student,” the athlete said. “I feel we are all adults and can monitor our classes and our attendance in those classes.”
In efforts to make college athletics more accountable, the National College Athletes Association requires that college athletes meet certain academic benchmarks to maintain their eligibility. With many student-athletes receiving hefty scholarships that often cover full tuition, SMU has hired class checkers to sit outside the classes of student-athletes with an attendance sheet daily. The student-athlete signs into class and, once the class has ended, signs out, helping the university to make sure that scholarship money is not only helping to support student-athletes as representatives of the school’s sports program, but to guarantee that the student is getting a well-rounded education.
Most Division I universities across the nation are also making use of class checking programs to increase the attendance of student-athletes. The University of Maryland has been using the system for decades. Among others, Texas A&M, the University of Southern California and the University of Kansas also employ similar programs.
While all SMU student-athletes’ grades are closely monitored, Associate Provost Harold Stanley says SMU’s student class checker system is only for students who have not met NCAA and university expectations.
“Some student-athletes greatly exceed these benchmarks,” Stanley said, “while others hover around the benchmarks. Student-athletes who do not exceed these benchmarks will be checked since class attendance has a strong correlation with performance in the classroom.”
Stanley says the program provides helpful alerts to staff members and academic counselors that allow them to determine if student-athletes are making the cut off the field and court.
“Timely information as to whether or not student-athletes have attended class helps coaches and coordinators enforce the policy and address the issue before it becomes a habit,” Stanley said.
Colton Donica, who was a class checker his freshman year, believes student-athletes who can’t take care of themselves don’t belong on campus.
“It’s literally a babysitting program,” Donica said, “and I think it’s stupid that people need babysitters. If you can’t make the grades and show up to class, those aren’t the kind of students SMU wants.”
The SMU student-athlete echoed that thought, speaking for herself and her fellow student-athletes.
“To most student-athletes, the class checker is a hassle,” she said. “It's like we're young children that can't monitor our own lives.”
Donica and the SMU student-athlete share the sentiments of a national crowd that pokes fun at such programs, like the University of Kansas at Lawrence student who is quoted in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article after he wrote to the University Daily Kansan “suggesting class checkers should not only monitor student-athlete attendance, but supervise their fashion choices, make sure they wash their hands after using the restroom and prepare sack lunches for them.”
As a New Century Scholar, Donica also feels that the program draws a clear line between student-athletes and academic scholars.
“It’s like we have different criteria,” Donica said. “I’m asked to get the grades I need to keep my scholarship. They’re just asked to throw a ball and just pass their class.”
Donica left the program after his freshman year because of the inconvenient time commitment. Class checkers are required to check classes in their free time and remain available to return to the classroom when the class ends.
“In that time you could have been eating or studying,” Donica said.
Samantha Wyatt was also a class checker her freshman year, as well as a manager for SMU Women’s Basketball. Like Donica, she found the class checking schedule difficult to manage and left her class checking position after her first semester because she had a more demanding schedule in the spring, Wyatt said.
An open schedule is just one of the criterions SMU uses to select the approximately 40 class checkers it employs each year.
“Students who apply for the position are selected based primarily on qualities such as reliability, dependability, and work ethic,” Harold Stanley said. “The schedule flexibility and availability of each applicant also play a part in selection.”