Official: Student-athletes major in diverse fields, counter to study

The degrees that TCU student-athletes are pursuing are quite diverse, counter to a study by USA Today that found student-athletes in some schools cluster in not-so-demanding majors, an athletics official said.

According to the study, 83 percent of the schools have at least one team in which at least 25 percent of the juniors and seniors have the same major. For example, seven of the 19 players on Stanford University’s baseball team major in sociology, according to the study.

Chris Uchacz, director of Athletic Academic Services Office, said the article made generalizations about colleges grouping student-athletes within certain majors to keep them eligible for sports.

“Our philosophy at TCU is truly in the student-athlete,” Uchacz said. “It’s not athlete-student, the student part comes first.”

The USA Today study looked at about 9,300 upperclassmen athletes , 142 schools’ media guides and Web sites , all 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) and 22 Division I schools with “standout basketball teams over the past few years.”

More than half of the clusters are referred to as “extreme,” where at least 40 percent of athletes on a team are in the same major. For example, all seven of the juniors and seniors on the University of Texas at El Paso’s men’s basketball team majored in multidisciplinary studies, according to the study.

Uchacz said even though some majors are more popular than others, such as communication studies, he doesn’t see the trends mentioned in the study at the university.

The College of Communication accounts for 25 percent of student-athletes, according to data from Athletic Academic Services Office. The men’s baseball team has six upperclassmen who have declared communication studies as their major out of 13 upperclassmen in the team; men’s basketball five out six; women’s basketball three out of five and football 19 out of 51.

The other two colleges with the highest student-athlete enrollment are the Neeley School of Business with 24 percent of student-athletes and the AddRan College of Liberal Arts with 19 percent.

On the men’s basketball team, one upperclassman has a double major, and in the football team, four upperclassmen are completing double degrees, Uchacz said.

Because TCU is a private school, it offers fewer majors than larger public schools, and therefore some majors have higher enrollment, Uchacz said.

Critics have said schools might be tempted to cut academic corners to help keep athletes eligible, according to the study.

In August 2003, the NCAA adopted the 40-60-80 Rule, which was intended to improve the graduation rate of athletes by requiring athletes to meet certain degree progress requirements.

Prior to August 2003, the degree plan percentage completion rates were 25 percent of the degree completed by the start of a student’s fifth full-time semester, 50 percent by the start of the seventh semester and 75 percent by the start of the ninth semester, Uchacz said. After 2003, those rates jumped to 40, 60 and 80 respectively, he added.

Even though the NCAA rule didn’t affect how TCU advises student-athletes, it did make advisers and students more aware of how to utilize free electives, Uchacz said.

Shawn Worthen, assistant director of Athletic Academic Services, said the ruling was a step in the right direction. Because of the degree completion rates, some senior student-athletes already finish their first degree and are able to work on a minor or another major, Worthen said.

“It might give them more leeway at the end to where a student athlete can come out of TCU with two degrees,” Worthen added.

Worthen said he doesn’t suggest a particular major to students when they come to him.

“I let them explore based on what they want to do,” Worthen said.

Devon Kirk, a senior nutrition major on the volleyball team, has switched her major several times and said there was no pressure from the NCAA or academic officials to pick or stick with a particular major.

“Athletics supports whatever career you want to pursue,” Kirk said. “They are there to support you along the way.”

Eli Cole, a freshman economics major on the men’s golf team, said he has never heard of any restrictions concerning majors for student-athletes.

“I’ve never heard of any adviser telling someone they can’t fit a major into their schedule or something of that nature,” Cole said. “There’s no reason why a certain major doesn’t work for a certain athletic schedule; we have every option that we wanted.”