After the disappointing season Michigan football just endured, improving the performance of student-athletes on the field might be fans’ priority. However, many people tend to forget that the time student-athletes spend practicing and training does not give them a free pass to perform poorly in the classroom. Luckily, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs has turned its attention toward the academic performance of student-athletes, evidenced by a recent proposal put before the group last week. If the proposal passes, it would change the way students’ athletic eligibility is determined, eliminating a dangerous perception of conflict of interest and pushing students to maintain higher academic standards.
Under current rules, a student-athlete with a GPA below 2.0 goes before the Committee on Academic Performance (APC). The APC then recommends to University Provost Teresa Sullivan whether or not it thinks student-athletes should compete. A new seven-point plan, introduced to SACUA by the chair of the Athlete Academic Advising Committee, Prof. Ed Rothman, would change that. SACUA is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting on Jan. 26. If it passes, the APC would be stripped of its power to make eligibility recommendations to Sullivan. Instead, individual schools and colleges and the University would make the recommendations.
One perk of the proposal is it would eliminate the perceived conflict of interest caused by the Athletic Department’s long-standing and recently criticized practice of sending APC members on all-expense-paid trips to bowl games. According to University President Mary Sue Coleman, the conflict isn’t a problem because the APC doesn’t make the final decision of eligibility — the Office of the Provost does. But even though Sullivan has the final say, the APC recommendation is rarely overturned. The proposed change in regulations would temper the University’s lack of action by simply erasing the perceived conflict.
For student-athletes, the changes would mean a new, more sensible way of assessing eligibility. Putting colleges and schools in charge would help tailor academic expectations to each student, taking into account the specific academic demands of each school and college.
Most importantly for the University’s image, though, is that the new regulation would ensure that student-athletes will be held to the high academic standards that the University prides itself on. That’s because colleges and schools have a vested interest in ensuring their students have impressive GPAs. The higher a school’s average GPA, the greater chance it has of attracting the best and brightest from around the country. That gives colleges an incentive to insist student-athletes meet and exceed the University’s standards in order to play sports.
But while the new system should go a long way in ensuring that student-athletes are representing the University well, there must be preventative measures in place as well. Student athletes’ grades should never drop to the point requiring them to go before their colleges to determine eligibility. Coaches and Athletic Department administrators should be carefully monitoring their athlete’s grades to ensure that they are maintaining an acceptable GPA. Because — devotion to Michigan football despite a disastrous season aside — this is a university and student-athletes must be students first.