Tay’s Takedown: Greater attention should be paid to academic futures of student-athletes
By Jared Tay
June 3, 2019 12:49 a.m.
“Champions made here.”
The motto of UCLA Athletics implies that student-athletes are fostered by the university to be the best embodiment of themselves on the field.
But it should mean demonstrating excellence off the field as well.
As student-athletes, being a champion means attaining, or at least striving for, high academic excellence as well as athletic achievement. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if the university is pushing that for all sports.
Many men’s basketball and football players don’t seem to have clear paths of study. For those who have a declared major, they are clustered around the classes with seemingly the least amount of required courses for graduation.
UCLA men’s basketball has 17 athletes on its roster, and 12 of them are listed as having undeclared majors. That isn’t to say that an undeclared major is a bad thing. Remaining undeclared allows students the freedom to explore various areas of interest and encourages interdisciplinary thought and study.
Of the four declared student-athletes, two have political science majors – a major with only 15 total required courses to graduate.
There is one psychobiology and one mechanical engineering student on the roster, but they are not representative of the squad as a whole. Together, these students, junior guard Armani Dodson and freshman guard Russell Stong, played a total of 17 minutes last season.
Only 18 of the 103 players on UCLA football’s roster have majors listed online. For the other 83%, it’s anybody’s guess as to what exactly their path of study is.
It shouldn’t be assumed that the other 85 athletes don’t have majors or take academics seriously. Yet, with the football academic progress rate also dangerously low – finishing dead last among Pac-12 schools – the low reporting rate does not look great.
With the NCAA estimating that only 3.9% of Division I football players will turn professional, the drive for academic success needs to be more forceful than what is being portrayed.
Of the 18 players who have their major listed, eight have declared sociology – one of the least demanding majors in terms of course requirements.
Only three lower division courses are needed to begin upper-division sociology coursework, compared to the minimum 19 courses that must be taken to enter the psychobiology major.
The story is different for sports that do not generate as much revenue as football and men’s basketball.
UCLA women’s soccer has a high number of undeclared athletes, but also boasts a healthy spread of other majors, ranging from physiological science to English. There’s also an applied mathematics student and a materials engineer in the mix.
Unlike the two men’s basketball players with challenging majors, both women’s soccer senior forward Julia Hernandez – an applied mathematics student – and junior midfielder Jessie Fleming – a materials engineering student – play significant roles on their squad. The two played a combined 1,788 minutes for the Bruins in 2018.
Gymnastics also has a high number of undeclared majors. Like women’s soccer, though, the team has a relatively good spread of majors like psychology, molecular, cell, and developmental biology, and anthropology.
Major choice is not indicative of how much academic drive a student-athlete has. But what is notable is the discrepancy in major choices between men’s basketball, football and other Division I sports at UCLA.
It gives the impression that men’s basketball and football programs remain apathetic about furthering academic progress. If we are to supposedly make champions out of our Bruins, it’s time for the university and athletic department to start emphasizing the “student” part of student-athlete.