Friday, April 7, 2017

A Work in Progress: Academic Support for Athletes at DIII Schools

(I've been lazy about posting the things I have written for other publications, but I'm trying to get caught up. The following was published in August of 2016 in the official Journal of the American Football Coaches association. It does a good job describing what I do at Thomas More College.)

Having academic support specifically for student athletes, especially football players, is often out of the reach of budgets at most DIII schools, especially small private colleges.  Schools often have a variety of support options for all students, including athletes. But to tailor tutoring and other services to athletes and their schedules is often out of the budget at most smaller institutions.
At Thomas More College in Northern Kentucky we are trying to do something different, offering academic support for athletes as part of our over all academic support system for all students, but to also service athletes with their special needs and schedules.
When college President Dave Armstrong first approached me about rejoining Head Football Coach Regis Scafe at Thomas More I told him I wanted to do something more than being a football coach. In my preceding 15 years coaching with Coach Scafe, first at Case Western Reserve than at John Carroll, I still taught  either at a local high school or college. I really enjoyed doing both, teaching and coaching. I mentioned to President Armstrong and Coach Scafe that I would like to do something that included both academics and athletics. A couple of weeks later President Armstrong gave me call and asked if I would like to be a part time football coach and also be the Academic Advisor for Athletes. I would be part football coach, but also a member of the school’s Success Center. After discussing what he had in mind, I decided it was an opportunity I could not pass up.
By the time you read this article I’ll be finishing my first year as the Academic Advisor for Athletes at Thomas More. We feel we have made great strides in our approach to helping our student athletes, especially football players, but we also know there is much room for growth and improvement.
One of our first goals was to create productive study tables for all student athletes. Often at a DIII school academic support for the football team will include students coming to the football office, signing in on a pad posted in the wall, and studying in a room that might also be an equipment closet. No tutor available, with coaches and grad assistants down the hall breaking down film or entertaining recruits.
We also didn’t want things to be like high school study hall. We wanted the student athletes to know that study table is a time for work. We hold it in the cafeteria three nights a week from 7:00 to 10:00. We picked this room because it’s big and students can spread out, it is also close to one of our computer labs and our library. After a student signs in to study table, he or she can stay in the library to work or go to the computer lab or library, depending on his or hers needs.  They also need to sign in at those locations too.
Each individual head coach decided how often his or hers players would attend study table. For football we made it mandatory that all freshmen and any upper classmen with a 2.4 or below GPA attend at least 3 hours a week.
One important aspect of our study tables is that whenever possible I am the one moderating. I am a retired high school language arts teacher with 15 years experience as an adjunct English and Communications professor at several universities. This gives our student athletes immediate access to someone who can help them write and edit papers, prepare presentations, and organize themselves to prepare for test and quizzes. A also have a Masters Degree in Counseling, which has often come in to play, especially with first year college students adjusting to life away from home.
For tutoring help in other subjects, especially math and science, we use the resources of our tutoring department. But at least I can look over a student athlete’s assignment before I send him or her off to one of our tutors. Students can also work with each other to prepare for tests and quizzes or to work on group projects or presentations.
We also designed individual study books for each student athlete. It includes study tips and note taking ideas, as well as weekly, monthly, and semester long calendars. We made it mandatory for fall semester for each football player to use a study book. They fill it in weekly, listing classes, tests and assignments, as well as any football related responsibilities. We wanted each player to know what his upcoming week was going to look like. For second semester we made it mandatory for all freshmen and anyone else with below a 2.4.
We also included in each study book “scorecards,” individual progress reports that we made mandatory several time over the course of the semester. Each player needs to get an up to date grade from each professor, including any missed assignments, latest test scores, and attendance updates. It is also hoped that this would get our student athletes in the habit of talking to their professors on a regular basis about not only their grades but also their responsibilities for each of their classes.
Besides mandatory study tables and study books, I meet regularly one-on-one with every freshmen and every upper classmen football player with less than a 2.4. We do this at the first two weeks of the semester and somewhere in the middle.
We also have a lot of athletes who are commuters, and do much of their studying in between classes during the school day. Many of them can’t stay after practice to attend study table. To facilitate them I also take over a section of our library from 11::00-1:00 three days a week, offering the same services we do at night.
Our whole philosophy has been to avoid headaches before they happen. We want the student athletes to know that at the first sign of a struggle in class come and get help. Do not wait until it is too late.
We are happy with the progress so far, but we have a way to go. We know we are a work in progress. Before the next school year starts I am going to visit some area colleges to see what they are doing to offer academic support to athletes. I plan on visiting both DI and DIII schools.

If you want to share what you are doing in academic support for athletes, especially football players, or if you have any questions or suggestions about what we are doing, please contact me at or 216.496.8286.  We all want the same thing; we all want what is best for our student athlete.

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