Varsity gymnast Chelsea Kroll, who was named to the Academic
All-Big Ten team in 2003, starts her day while most of Ann Arbor is
still sleeping. At 7:30 a.m., the LSA senior wakes up. She chugs a
cup of coffee and is off to her first slate of classes.

Between class and practice, Kroll tries to get as much homework
done as possible. After a full day of practice, homework and class,
she slips into bed at 11 p.m. so she can be up early the next
morning again.

Kroll is part of a women’s gymnastic team that has won the
Leaders and Best trophy — which goes to the University
varsity sport with the best grades — two out of the last five
years. In 2003, when she won her academic Big Ten award, she was
also on the NCAA All-America second team.

Despite their harried schedules, athletes traditionally have a
higher graduation rate than student bodies as a whole, according to
a recent study by the NCAA as reported by The Chronicle of Higher
Education. The average six-year rate for athletes entering college
in the 1997-98 school year at universities across the country is 62
percent, leading overall graduation rates by two points.

The overall athlete graduation rate at the University is 82
percent, 20 points above the national average.

But in the survey, men’s basketball did not follow that
trend. Overall, basketball had the lowest rate of any sport,
graduating 44 percent of players.

At Michigan, that rate was even lower. The study shows that just
27 percent of male basketball players entering college in 1997-98
graduated within six years, lagging far behind the University-wide
rate of 82 percent.

Among schools nation wide, the University had the third-worst
disparity between graduation rates of men’s basketball
players and overall rates.

Basketball players and coach Tommy Amaker refused to comment on
the issue.

“There were revolving doors: Kids would come in and stay a
year and then leave,” Athletic Director Bill Martin said.
“They had a chance to turn professional and ring the bell
financially. Put yourself in their shoes.”

Martin said the program’s structure and personnel led to
the high turnover rate.

“There was instability in the program,” he
added.

But since then, things have changed, Martin said.

“Those numbers are one reason we have a new coach,”
Martin said, referring to the 2001 firing of Brian Ellerbe and
subsequent hiring of current head coach Tommy Amaker.

“You might want to think about the low rate as pre-Tommy
(Amaker) and post-Tommy and see the dramatic change,” Martin
said. “Under Tommy, nine out of the 10 players have
graduated.”

The only player in Amaker’s era not to graduate was
Bernard Robinson Jr., who left early for the NBA. Martin said he
believes Robinson plans to come back eventually and graduate. The
program now boasts players in highly ranked University programs.
Among others, J.C. Mathis was accepted this summer into the Stephen
M. Ross School of Business and Sherrod Harrell is in the School of
Engineering.

The University is making more of an effort to recruit athletes
who can handle the necessary schoolwork and compete at the same
time, Martin said.

“First and foremost at Michigan, you have to win in the
classroom,” Martin said. “Then you win on the
basketball court.”

Athletes learn to deal with the demands of sports and academics
early, Kroll said.

The gymnastic program requires freshman to go to a supervised
study room four days a week from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. to help them
adjust. If an upperclassman’s GPA slips below 2.0, she too
must go to the study table.

“You have to get used to balancing the two,” she
said. “It’s really hard, especially when you get into
your season and you care so much about the sport that it’s
hard to focus on your homework. But it’s kept me
disciplined.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.