Varsity Athletes Get Class Credit
On this day of national mourning, I know it somewhat’s trivial to be talking about college football, but it’s top of mind. So here’s hoping that Michigan whips Notre Dame’s butt this afternoon. In addition, let me say that I’m glad to know that Michigan is not on the list of schools who offer college credit to football players for playing football.
Varsity Athletes Get Class Credit
Some Colleges Give Grades for Playing
By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page A01
One of the classes at Kansas State University meets four hours each weekday afternoon during fall and spring semesters, and is taught both indoors and outdoors. The instructor has a contract that pays him nearly $2 million annually and is credited with turning around a once-dormant department that now raises millions of dollars a year for the school.
At least seven Saturdays each fall, thousands of Kansas State alumni return to Manhattan, Kan., to see the fruits of the students’ work. The class? Varsity football. The instructor? Wildcats Coach Bill Snyder. Each semester, Kansas State athletes earn academic credit on the field in practice and games. Some athletes are able to count as many as four credit hours toward their academic degrees by playing on the school’s sports teams.
Kansas State Coach Bill Snyder, left, teaches “Varsity Football” in which 84 of 91 students received an “A” this spring. (Lindsey Bauman — AP)
Kansas State isn’t alone in allowing student-athletes to earn academic credit for playing sports. A Washington Post survey of physical education courses taught at the 117 schools that field Division I-A football teams found that nearly three dozen universities award academic credit for participation on intercollegiate sports teams. Eleven football teams in the Associated Press preseason top 25 poll have players earning academic credit for practicing, including defending co-national champion Southern California, which kicks off the 2004 season against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field on Saturday night.
These classes have two requirements: (1) being a member of the sports teams and (2) attending practices and games.
The play-for-grades classes illustrate the challenge of reconciling academic missions with big-time athletics at universities. In April, the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved academic reforms that its president, Myles Brand, called “the strongest ever passed by the NCAA.” Those changes will take away scholarships and postseason eligibility from schools that fail to graduate a minimum percentage of their athletes, but they fail to address schools where, for years, going to practice has been a step toward earning a degree.
The existence of such classes came as a surprise to several senior academic administrators, including Brand and the chancellor of the University of Nebraska.
“I don’t know the situations at the schools you’re talking about,” Brand said yesterday when asked about the practice. “I’d worry about it. I’m surprised. . . . These schools need to look very carefully at these courses and make sure they’re legitimate.”
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman also seemed unaware that athletes at his school were being given academic credit for physical-conditioning courses tailored for their sports. “I think it’s something the institutions need to look at, and we are looking at it,” Perlman said.
The survey found that classes are offered for all intercollegiate sports, not just football. Most of the classes have no syllabus or exams, and student-athletes aren’t required to complete written work. Most of the classes are graded on a pass-or-fail scale, although Kansas State is one of the few schools that gives letter grades for the courses.
Last fall semester, 69 Kansas State football players enrolled in Snyder’s course — ATHM 104 or “Varsity Football” — in the school’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. According to documents obtained from Kansas State through state open records laws, only one of the 69 players enrolled in the class failed to receive one credit hour toward his academic degree, and all but four received grades of “A.” This spring, 91 players enrolled in the course, including many who were repeating the class, and Snyder awarded 84 of them the highest letter grade, the records show.
“They give letter grades?” said Brand, the former Indiana University president who fired basketball coach Bob Knight. “That’s terrible. You can’t have that.”
Kansas State Athletic Director Tim Weiser defends the courses, saying they have existed “for decades and decades, maybe even 100 years.” Weiser said the school offers similar courses for student athletic trainers and managers and to students who participate in the marching band, drama department and ROTC program.
“What I’ve heard at other schools is that there are other ways to learn at an academic institution other than in the classroom,” Weiser said. “What we learn doesn’t necessarily have to come out a classroom or out of a book.”
Many of the universities that boast the nation’s most recognizable and successful football programs offer participation credits in football and other sports. Brigham Young, Florida State, Georgia, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State, all winners of a football national championship during the past 25 years, also have similar policies in place.